The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad
by Minister Faust
Published by Del Rey
531 pages, 2004
Coyote Kings Rule
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
Anyone with the slightest working knowledge of the way the book world works will instruct you about genre. Though they might not understand the whys, they'll tell you that this work of fiction is mystery -- or science fiction or romance -- and that one is literary fiction. The obvious observation -- that any work of fiction is by its nature literary -- seems not to bother anyone at all. A work of literary fiction, we're given to understand, is by nature a superior animal. Created with a purity of thought and heart than those working in lessor forms -- in forms that can be described as genre fiction -- could never begin to understand.
At some level, genre is important. For starters, without genre, bookstores would be a big mess. You'd walk in to a huge jumble of books: works by Thomas Keneally next to those by Bill Bryson next to those by Barbara Taylor Bradford. In that context, genres give us order as well as instruction. If, for instance, you enjoyed reading novels by Diana Gabaldon and you find a book by Sara Donati next to Gabaldon's latest work, you have a hint that you might like this second book. They're grouped together because they are somehow alike: they share certain elements.
Too often, however, genre also provides a ghetto. A book that can be easily categorized as belonging to one or other genre can be sneered at by purists: by those that claim to love more literary works. Some of this is justifiable. There are books published regularly in every genre with formulaic plots and cardboard characters. Books that feel as though they were crafted by writing-by-numbers kits. Mostly, however, these are in the minority. Even when, as is the case with much science fiction and fantasy, there are many familiar elements: things unique to the genre that make for a somewhat comfortable fit.
And then there are others. Had I not been instructed that The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad was to be reviewed as Science Fiction/Fantasy, I wouldn't have known. Sure: there are magical realist elements, but that's true of the work of a lot of writers -- Margaret Atwood springs to mind -- whose work we don't automatically stuff into any genre beyond "fiction."
Debut novelist, veteran media personality and accomplished poet Minister Faust delivers an astonishing first effort with Coyote Kings. Faust's writing is strong and his characterizations deep and fulfilling. His bad guys are odious and numerous and his heroes are cheerfully heroic in an appealingly self-deprecating way.
The plot here is convoluted, but the journey is engaging and the reader's attention need not flag. Best of all, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad is utterly original, making it impossible to say: "Faust's writing is like this or that author." I feel quite comfortable in saying that there's never been a book quite like this one.
You get a taste for the originality of the book from the very first page. It begins with the epilogue: a device that sounds annoyingly clever but that Faust pulls off very nicely:
In advance, shut up. I know epilogues go at the end. My point here, which should have been obvious already in my opinion, is that I am telling you some of the end of this story so as to get you to comprehend the mind-set under which I am currently operating and during which I am escaping.
The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad is told from the viewpoints of all of the major characters: something that sounds potentially confusing but that Faust uses to good effect. It helps -- and is also amusing as well as illuminating -- that each new "speaker" is introduced with a gamer-style sheet of character data that includes the character's full name, intelligence, strength, weaknesses, wisdom and other bits of important stuff. In this way we're given lots of information on the character -- the kind of information novelists often keep to themselves -- and the data sheets themselves provide a moment's respite and a reminder of what sort of journey it is that we're on.
Inexplicably to me, the book is set in the mid-1990s. This was the single jarring point in The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. There may be a reason for the time warp but, if so, I don't know what it is. Less inexplicably, the book is set in Edmonton, capitol city of Alberta, Canada and the author's home town. Edmontonians will enjoy the trip home, but others won't mind one way or the other: the book could have been set anywhere in North America that is home to a large immigrant culture. It's even possible that some readers will think the settings are fictional. They're not: but they're very specific to 1995 or thereabouts.
The setting also offers the deep evil we're exposed to in sharp relief. You expect badness when it comes out of Los Angeles or New York. We've been fed so much from both of those major settings. But Edmonton? The innocuous-seeming location only makes the unreal plot developments feel more real.
Our heroes are Hamza Achmed Qebhsennuf Senesert -- Hamza to his friends -- and Yehat Bartholomew Gerbles -- most frequently known as Ye. Both are calmly confident young black men of the type more frequently found in Canada's mosaic culture than in America's melting pot. They are as comfortable with the North American culture they were raised with -- and both have a pleasingly geeky sci-fi bent -- as they are with the cultures of their heritages. Early in the book while we're getting to know them, Hamza riffs a bit on his wardrobe:
And sometimes, I wear this dope fez I bought at the Ghanaian pavilion during Heritage Days Festival, purple and gold, and Ye says I look like a sheikh when I wear it. I like that: Sheikh Hamza el-Coyote.
Though both young men are brilliant, Yehat seems particularly Mensa-bound. When he's not working his Macjob as a clerk in a video store, he concocts electronic marvels in the house he and Hamza share. Hamza works as a restaurant dishwasher yet we come to know very quickly that he is a writer and philosopher derailed by a set of personal mishaps that happened four years before but that the reader isn't allowed to fully understand until deep into the book.
When Hamza meets the beautiful and mysterious Sherem he thinks his life has begun to turn around. She is the woman he didn't dare dream about: not only gorgeous, she knows arcane African languages, restores classic cars for kicks and is able to quote obscure comics. He falls in love quickly and the reader can hardly blame him:
Those giant dark eyes are still on me, the restaurant mood lights now nebulae in their blackness. I can make out her scent. ... It's like sun-baked sand. And mist .... spray...
For his part, Yehat takes an almost instant dislike to Sherem, and though he wishes good things for his best friend, he fears that the strange woman will lead Hamza back to the dark place he's been brooding in since his last heartbreak.
Whatever Yehat fears doesn't even come close to what the future holds when they meet Dulles Allen, an ex-pro football player turned nightclub owner and epic bad guy. Allen controls the FanBoys, an eclectic vanload of hand-picked henchmen. While their talents are varied, the FanBoys have one solid link: there isn't one among them who wouldn't do just about anything Dulles Allen asked of them. "The Master has given us our sacrament and charged us with our usefulness," says one of the more literate FanBoys, "and the prize we seek for his name's sake will soon be in his massive engine block hands." The nature of that prize takes us longer to discover.
Yehat and Hamza are also reintroduced to a pair they had hoped never to come across again: Heinz and Kevlar (a clever contraction of Kevin Lars) Meaney were friends with Yehat and Hamza in their youth. Now while our golden pair toil in jobs without futures, Heinz and Kevlar are world travelers, authors and the owners of The Modeous Zokolo, a store that, in Hamza's words, is "a yuppy import joint catering to dilettante cappuccino-snorting rich freaking rectaloids."
What sets the plot in motion is a search for a Holy-Grail-like import item that everyone -- except Yehat and Hamza, of course -- seems to know about, but no one can locate. Late in the book we discover that what looked like a Grail is an object so potentially important, it could alter the course of the world and humanity if it gets into the wrong hands. But whose hands are wrong? With two sets of evil bad guys to choose from, plus the mystery woman with the looks of a desert super model who seems to know more than she's letting on, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad fairly teems with dark corners.
With The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad Minister Faust delivers a stylish, accomplished first novel. Alternately laugh-out-loud funny, deeply tender and downright chilling, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad is filled with pop culture references, modern philosophy and subtle thoughts on the nature of human relationships. A first rate novel from all angles, one can only hope it's the first of many. | August 2004
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.