A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Book Review: Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet — June 30, 2015

Book Review: Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet

justice_callingImagine you’re Jade Crow, a sorceress on the run from a murderous ex-boyfriend. You find a little town in the Idaho backwoods where you can stay lost for a while. It’s off the main roads, and it’s full of shapeshifters and other magical folk, providing enough mystical background noise, you hope, to keep the ex from homing in on yours.

You open up a game and comics shop to pay the bills. It’s not a bad life—you keep the magic on the down-low, mostly, to avoid drawing attention to yourself, and you make a few close friends. You all get together for a D&D session every Thursday night, eat pizza, pop some beers, debate the merits of Golden Age DC versus the New 52 between dice rolls, and make sure everything’s locked up when you’re done, though anybody who finds your shop unsecured after hours is more likely to lock the door for you than pilfer anything. It’s a sweet routine, and sometimes you forget the magic, and the ex, and your history. Sometimes. Almost.

Then one night, a Justice, the fey equivalent of a federal marshal, walks into your shop and accuses you of murdering somebody you never met. Even worse, your best pal’s fox-shifter mom turns up shortly thereafter—dead, and stuffed.

Okay, she’s only mostly dead, and she only looks like a bad taxidermy project, but it’s enough to send your cozy little life right off the rails. Somebody uncomfortably close to your adopted home is killing shifters and sucking the magic out of them, not necessarily in that order. Clearing your name without blowing your cover isn’t going to be easy. Staying alive might be even harder.


Justice Calling is the first volume in Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series (book 6 coming next month) featuring nerdy-cool Amerind spell-slinger Jade Crow. It’s an adventuresome magical mystery leavened with wry humor, but along the way, Jade deals with some weighty questions. She’s been searching her whole life for a place she can belong, and now that she thinks she’s found it, should she stand her ground and fight, despite the risk of her new friends becoming collateral damage from her old lover’s homicidal rage? Will her friends desert her anyhow, once they learn exactly who and what she is—and discover the dark past that haunts her? Complicating matters is the disturbing fact that Jade finds hunky tiger-shifter Justice Aleksei Kirov more than a little attractive, but her romantic track record is less than sterling. Can she trust him? Can she trust herself?

This was a fun read, very much in the spirit of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files stories, but with its own unique flair. Jade is a likable, relatable protagonist, and the magical universe Ms. Bellet creates, skewed just a bit from our own, spices the story without drowning it in mystic overhead, in much the same way that a good role-playing adventure game is best managed with a light touch and driven by the players’ interaction.

There’s some coarse language, typical of the gamer culture and Jade’s generational cohort. I thought Jade spent a little too much time daydreaming about Alek’s sundry masculine charms, but that’s a minor gripe. If you enjoy your magical fantasy in a modern setting with plenty of chuckles and a touch of danger and mystery, Justice Calling is for you.

Annie Bellet is an up-and-coming talent in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As I posted a few weeks ago, her short story, “Goodnight Stars,” was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, but Ms. Bellet withdrew her story once the brouhaha over voting tactics exploded. I thought her work was Hugo-worthy on its own merits, regardless of who might have happened to drop it into the nomination bin. An unfortunate turn of events, but I’ve no doubt there will be many more awards in this author’s future.

Link to purchase Justice Calling

Annie Bellet’s webpage

Cruel Summer — June 29, 2015

Cruel Summer

Hot summer streets
And the pavements are burning, I sit around
Trying to smile
But the air is so heavy and dry

Strange voices are saying
What did they say
Things I can’t understand
It’s too close for comfort
This heat has got right out of hand

— “Cruel Summer,” Bananarama

So far, summer’s actually been cooler than usual here in eastern Kansas. I’ve been busy with work and family, and there’s not been much time or energy left for contemplation or writing. My literary muse seems to be on an extended walkabout in the Australian Outback—no clue when she’ll return, but I expect she’ll arrive on my doorstep coated in aboriginal greasepaint and toting a didgeridoo.

That should make for an interesting reunion.

Conversation in the media, social and otherwise, continues hot and humid, with no cooling trend in sight. A pleasant shower of reasonable dialogue might be nice, but that’s as unlikely as a green front lawn in the San Joaquin Valley. Someone observed this morning that Twitter hashtags may have become our modern stoning grounds. True, that, and nobody seems the least shy about throwing the first rock.

I’m starting to think there’s nothing to be said about religion, politics, or literature that won’t place the speaker squarely in the center of an L-shaped ambush right now, and that makes sharing one’s opinions in public…challenging.

Perhaps I should take refuge in metaphor:

Ahem. Maybe I’ll steer clear of social commentary altogether and talk about what I’m reading right now:

Recently finished:

Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet – Magic and mayhem in Idaho.

Master of the House of Darts, by Aliette de Bodard – Magic and mayhem in an ancient Aztec empire.

In progress:

Confessions, by St. Augustine – Youthful mayhem, and redemption, in ancient Alexandria.


The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff – Philosophical mayhem in the Hundred Acre Wood.

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King – Mayhem in an epic quest through a parallel world…or something.

So, it’s pretty much mayhem all around. Cruel summer, indeed.

Random Randomness, 5/14/2015 — May 14, 2015

Random Randomness, 5/14/2015

Why? Because the Iron Laws of Probability demand it.

Rather than proceed with my usual smattering of random anecdotes about random stuff that’s caught my attention the past couple of weeks, I think I’ll offer a random list of random song lyrics.

This is a sampling of those deathless ditties that everybody recognizes, nobody understands, and absolutely no one gets right when they try to sing along. You know what I’m talking about.

WARNING: These incoherent earworms may induce road rage and spontaneous nosebleeds. Do not read while driving, do keep a spare tissue and bottle of ibuprofen at hand, and, for the love of all that’s good and true, suspend all logical analysis, lest the madness consume you.

Perhaps they make sense in some alternate universe where fish carry briefcases, children obey their parents, and a purple shirt coordinates with green slacks and argyle socks. Or not. It really doesn’t matter…sometimes trying to impose reason on something silly sucks the fun right out of it.

From the Broadway play, “The Echo,” 1910 (resurrected for a new generation by the 1980s children’s variety program, “The Elephant Show”), “Skidamarink a-Dink a-Dink”:

elephant showSkidamarink a-dink, a-dink, Skidamarink a-doo, I love you.
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening and underneath the moon.
Skidamarink a-dink, a-dink, Skidamarink a-doo, I love you.

When your Lovely Wife is a kindergarten teacher, this song haunts your nightmares.


From The Chips, 1956 (covered by The Blues Brothers in 1978), “Rubber Biscuit”:

BluesBrothersHeere odda hilldidda hildhiruhah
Juuuyr adda hilldadida jigguwah
Hieere odda hittomamma jizzowazzah
Hoow bawlda hiwowiwa hiwiwah
Heere odda hilldeninne hilldennine
Hiiire odda hillimoney hilluwowahwah
Dwiire odda higgunama shuppobup
Deare odda hildumama hithuivha
Puurr onna hillimona hillduwiva

I have no idea what it means, but Jake and Elwood sure looked cool singing it.


From the Broadway musical, “The Music Man,” 1957, “Shi-Poo-Pi”:

the music manBut a woman who waits ’til the third time around,
Head in the clouds, feet on the ground!
She’s the girl he’s glad he’s found–she’s his
Shi-Poo-Pi! Shi-Poo-Pi! Shi-Poo-Pi! Shi-Poo-Pi!
The girl who’s hard to get!
Shi-Poo-Pi! Shi-Poo-Pi! Shi-Poo-Pi!
But you can win her yet!

I doubt My Lovely Wife would appreciate me calling her My Shi-Poo-Pi, but so she is.


From the Broadway musical, Hair, 1967, “Good Morning Starshine”:

hairGliddy glup gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy la la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla nooby abba nabba
Early morning singing song

Oh, if only I could drop this gloopy song into the nibby nabby Crack of Doom along with the tooby ooby One Ring…


From The Police, 1980,”De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”:

policeDe do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
They’re meaningless and all that’s true

Ah, the sound of one hand clapping.


 From the Broadway musical, Grease, 1991, “We Go Together”:

greaseWe go together
Like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong
Remembered forever
As shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang shoobop
That’s the way it should be, wha ooohhhh, yeah

“Remembered forever?” I get lost after the first rama lamma lamma.


From Nirvana, 1991, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”:

nirvanaLoad up on guns, bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

You can pick just about any snippet from a Nirvana song and it will work here. Go ahead…try it!


From Barenaked Ladies, 1998, “One Week”:

oneweekChickity China the Chinese chicken
You have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’
Watchin X-Files with no lights on,
We’re dans la maison
I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one
Like Harrison Ford I’m getting Frantic
Like Sting I’m Tantric
Like Snickers, guaranteed to satisfy

This one almost makes sense, but perhaps it’s because I wear my mind on my sleeve and have a history of losing my shirt.

Enough already. If I’ve missed your favorite bit of gibbering nonsense, feel free to mention it in my very empty comment box…if you dare.

UPDATE: 05/15/15: On Facebook, an old high school chum noted one I’d missed, which brought yet another to mind, and they were both too good to omit, so…

From The Kingsmen, 1963, “Louie Louie”:

kingsmenLouie Louie, oh no
Me gotta go
Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
Louie Louie, oh baby
Me gotta go

I always thought this chorus sounded like an urgent plea to use the “facilities,” but in the verses, which nobody listens to, the minstrel pines for his love in faraway Jamaica.
From Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, 1965, “Wooly Bully”:

sam-the-shamHatty told Matty, “Let’s don’t take no chance.
Let’s not be L-seven, come and learn to dance.”
Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully.

The other verses are no help here, but who cares? I can’t stop singing “wooly bully” over and over again.



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