Today I Read…The Con Artist

Image result for the con artist fred van lenteToday I read The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente, with illustrations by Tom Fowler.

Comic book artist Mike M isn’t having the greatest Comic Con. His friend and mentor just died, after Mike flew out specifically to present him with a lifetime achievement award. But on the bright side, the jerk editor who slept with his wife is also dead, murdered on the steps of the convention center at midnight right before some cosplayers who were trying to set a world record for the most fans dressed as characters from Dante’s Fire were trying to take their picture. I mean, it’s not great that he’s dead, but he really was a jerk and there isn’t exactly, well, anyone, who’s sorry he’s dead. Including his boss.

On the less bright side, the cops think that Mike killed him. This is really putting a damper on his weekend. How’s a guy supposed to draw commissions with his hands cuffed together?

It’s up to Mike to clear his name and figure out who really killed the editor. And deal with his ex-wife. And find his friend’s missing art. And find the pedal cab driver dressed like Lara Croft. And try not to backstab once-removed the pregnant fellow artist. And watch out for the potentially unstable one-armed fangirl.

This is one exclusive experience Mike doesn’t want to stand in line for…


This review copy was courtesy of Lahring Tribe from Penguin Random House Canada, who was kind enough to send me a copy after I told her how much I love the cover at a library conference. Which I do, it’s adorable, like someone killed a Funko Pop on a staircase full of con exclusives.

I’m a con-running fangirl, though I’ve never attended San Diego Comic Con (one day though, when I have things like vacation days and money…) This book is definitely aimed at people like me, who will recognize the people and shows and situations at least enough to understand the world that Mike is living in, because a con really is it’s own world. Mike’s situation of basically living at cons year-round sounds odd, but I can see how it would work, if you’re willing to live out of your suitcase 365. The con schedule is pretty set, especially for the big ones, it’s year-round these days, and it’s all cash. The setting and the characters are the strong points of this novel, because yes some fans really are that weird (I mean this with affection). Van Lente does a good job of describing the experience of a con from the perspective of someone who works it, as opposed to an attendee.

Unfortunately, the plot isn’t as strong. The murder mystery is missing, well, the mystery part. Mike is suspected of murder by the cops, and he’s trying to clear his name, but he’s a lousy detective. For the reader to follow along with a mystery, you need to sprinkle in your suspects and clues throughout the book, and most of them just get plopped in closer to the end. Everything gets explained without giving the character or the reader the chance to try to figure it out. You don’t suspect the bad guy because he isn’t there to suspect for most of the book.

The interior art is a nice touch, since Mike is constantly sketching out what’s happening. It’s his way of making sense of things and sorting out his thoughts, but it doesn’t add to the mystery aspect, since even on review again afterward I still don’t see any clues in the pictures.

While I enjoy the character of Violent Violet, the one-armed fangirl desperate to meet the creator of her favorite character (her one-armed post-apocalyptic female wrestler namesake), and I would really like a deeper look at fan identification with characters and the creation of diverse characters that people connect with, the one thing I didn’t like is the typical American reliance on guns to save the day. Seriously? Do you people not learn? It’s sheer laziness to just shoot the bad guy, and it’s an Only In America ending.

Nerds, take a look for the con aspects, but mystery fans take a pass.

Today I Read…The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand Dollar Tan LineToday I read The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, the first Veronica Mars original novel, which follows the recent movie.

Ah, spring break in Neptune, California. There’s nothing quite like it. The time when hundreds of drunken college students descend on Neptune’s sun-soaked streets to party like they’re not flunking out of the very expensive schools mommy and daddy are paying for.

And Veronica Mars is right back where she started– back in Neptune, working in her father’s detective agency and trying to help people and pay the bills, in the face of a corrupt and incompetent sheriff’s office. Nancy Drew never had to put up with this shit.

But now girls have started to go missing from the wild parties that happen every night, and the good and very rich people of Neptune want these unfortunate and tourist-unfriendly events to stop happening. Oh, and to save the girls too, of course, as long as it’s handled discretely. Too bad they hired Veronica Mars to find the girls. Because discrete is definitely not her middle name.


So, I loved the Veronica Mars movie (proud Kickstarter backer here!), and I was happy when Rob Thomas announced that he would be continuing the story in a series of original tie-in novels. It’s always best when the creator continues the story–they know their world the best, and Rob Thomas is definitely no exception. It’s a serviceable stand-alone mystery, but it shines best as part of the world of Veronica Mars. It’s filled with in-jokes and references that only the obsessive fan will catch, such as Martina Vasquez and Norris Clayton. It needs more Logan, but then I usually want more Logan. There’s some great set-up for future books, but I don’t want to get too in-depth since the movie is still in theaters. I will say that you should definitely see the movie before reading the book–the book occurs two months later, and there are a lot of events that have happened in Veronica’s life since we last saw her at Hearst College at the end of season three of the TV series. There’s a bit of a recap, but you’ll miss a lot of details if you don’t watch the movie first, and Veronica Mars has always been all about the details.

I know that I said it was a serviceable stand-alone mystery, but I would really recommend this book first to fans of Veronica Mars. Rob Thomas has said that he made the movie first for the fans and then for the wider audience, and the book is clearly the same. Veronica…she’s not always a nice person. Turning the other cheek to her just means that you’re a sucker who’s going to get hit twice. What she is, is fascinating. She screws up, and she tries again. She doesn’t give up. She’s deeply flawed as a person, but you still root for her even when she’s turned her life into a disaster. I think you need to get that to really feel for her as the protagonist. To understand why Dan Lamb is an ass, and why she worries about her father, and her issues with a certain person who shows up but isn’t in the movie and I’m definitely not saying more about that because spoilers.

So, to sum up, I loved it and I can’t wait for the next one! And Veronica Mars? You’re still a marshmallow.


By Wednesday morning, the coastal town that sparkled at night looked … mundane. Not just mundane. Dirty. Pools of spilled beer collected in the seams of the sidewalk, and the rank tang of overfilled Dumpsters wafted out from the alleys. The ghostly forms of used condoms littered doorways and bushes, and shattered glass covered the street.

The Sea Nymph Motel was eerily silent when eighteen-year-old Bri Lafond stumbled in. Almost all of the guests were spring breakers, and the party didn’t get started until early afternoon. She had been at a rave on the inland edge of town, and by the time the party had wound down at 4:00 a.m. she hadn’t been able to get a cab. She’d still been high enough that the idea of walking back to the motel had seemed feasible. Now, bone tired, she trudged through the sandy courtyard to the room she and her three best friends from UC Berkeley had rented. It was one of the cheapest available, facing the Dumpster in the parking lot. Now she didn’t care, fumbling with the lock and wanting only to fall into one of the two doubles they’d been sharing all week.

The room’s blinds gaped open, letting in a ray of pallid light. Leah was sprawled across the bed with her head shoved under a pillow, still wearing a sequined dress from the night before. Her legs were bruised and smudged with dirt. Melanie sat with her back to the headboard, sipping from a paper Starbucks cup. She wore board shorts and a bikini top, her long blond hair tousled and smears of makeup caking her eyes. She looked up when she heard the door open.

“I have a surf lesson in, like, half an hour, and I’m still drunk,” she said. She looked at Bri, her eyes focusing with difficulty. “Where’ve you been? You look like shit.”

“Thanks a lot.” Bri leaned down to unzip her boots, her feet throbbing. “Where’s Hayley? Is she surfing too?”

“Haven’t seen her.” Melanie closed her eyes and rested her head back against the wall. Bri froze, one boot off, the other still pinching her toes. She looked up.

“Since when?”

“Since … since the party on Monday, I guess.” Melanie opened her eyes. “Shit.”

Bri blinked, then tugged the other boot off her foot. She sank to the bed and gently pushed Leah’s shoulder. “Hey, Leah. Wake up. Did you see Hayley yesterday?”

Leah gave a low moan from under the pillow. For a moment she curled into a tight ball, her arm circled protectively over her head. It took them a few more minutes of prodding and cooing her name before she finally pulled away the pillow and looked blearily up at them. “Hayley? Not since the … the party on Monday.”

A bleak, empty feeling expanded into every corner of Bri’s body. She scrolled back through her messages. There was nothing from Hayley since Monday afternoon.

Now Bri remembered seeing Leah doing lines of coke off an antique coffee table, holding her long honey-colored hair off her neck as she bent over. She remembered hands running up her hips, a slurring male voice telling her she’d be really hot if she grew her hair out. She remembered seeing flashes of Hayley, leaning up to whisper in the ear of a boy in a perfectly cut white suit, his eyes long lashed and sultry, his lips pouting playfully.

Beyond that everything was a blur. She’d woken up the next morning in a lawn chair by the motel pool, shivering in the early morning chill, her purse tucked under her head. She had no idea how she’d gotten home.

“Did you see her leave the party with someone?” Bri looked at her friends. Both shook their heads slowly.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Melanie said hesitantly. “She’s probably with some guy she met at the party. She’ll come up for air sooner or later.”

“But we promised we’d check in with each other at least once a day. We promised.” Bri’s voice was shriller than she’d meant for it to sound. They’d made a pact on the way down that no matter what they were up to, no matter how much fun they were having, they’d look out for one another. The dark, empty feeling in her gut yawned even wider.

Today I Read…The Dead Kid Detective Agency

Dead Kid Detective AgencyToday I read The Dead Kid Detective Agency, written and illustrated by Evan Munday, the first book in th e Dead Kid Detective Agency series.

October Schwartz hasn’t been having the best luck lately. Her depressed dad has moved them to the tiny town of Stickville, where he’s a teacher at her new high school, only she’s younger than everybody else. She met a really cool girl, who immediately gets the whole school to call her “Zombie Tramp”. Oh, and there are a bunch of dead kids hanging out in the cemetery behind her house, and only October can see them. How’s a girl to write the greatest horror story ever (Two Knives, One Thousand Demons) under these conditions?

Then October’s favourite teacher dies under suspicious circumstances, and no one is willing to listen to October when she says Mr. O’Shea didn’t kill himself. No one, that is, except the dead kids: Cyril, Morna, Tabetha, Kirby, and Derek, children from different times who have one thing in common–none of them know how they died. Together October and the ghosts form the Dead Kid Detective Agency to investigate Mr. O’Shea’s death, and his life. After all, who would want to kill a French teacher? Their investigation leads them all the way back to 1960s Quebec and the Front de liberation du Quebec, and the secrets of the teachers of Stickville.


I met Evan Munday at last year’s OLA Festival of Trees, where I helped him with his workshop. He was a lively presenter and he made his book sound really interesting, so I picked it up at the Word on the Street Festival and it finally made it to the top of my to-read pile (and by pile I mean mountain range). I’m glad I bought it- Munday tells an entertaining tale that sets the stage well for the following books (the second book Dial M for Morna has been released). Munday also drew the cartoons scattered throughout the book.

The book is set in modern times, but there are pieces of Canadian history throughout the book, since each of the dead kids is from a different era, and Mr. O’Shea’s death is connected to the FLQ. It’s worked in in an interesting way, and adds some humour when the kid from the 1700s tries to drive a car. The point of view switches between October and an omniscient narrator, which can be a bit much when it switches mid-chapter, but it usually adds to the humour. The mystery is well-built and the characters are lively and interesting, especially the dead ones. The living ones include the loyal friends, the mean girls, the good and bad teachers, and the distant relatives required of a young adult novel, but the familiar archetypes never feel stale. (Though just what is Stacey’s last name?)

At 300 pages this isn’t a terribly quick read, but it’s a fun one, even when Munday is sneakily trying to make you learn things–I mean, knowledge of A-ha is important to musical history, so he can probably be forgiven for the other history bits. (Whaddaya mean, who’s A-ha? Kids, sheesh.) A good read for anyone who likes their protagonist to be pop-culture saavy and quick with a quip (Buffy Summers, how I miss you!), as well as those who like their characters to not understand how the metal cart moves without a horse.


October Schwartz is not dead.

Now, there are plenty of dead folks in this book (you read the title before starting the book, right?), it’s just that October Schwartz does not happen to be one of them. That said, it was her first day at Sticksville Central High School, and she sort of wished she were dead.

October had moved to Sticksville only a month earlier, and she didn’t know anyone yet, unless you counted her dad and maybe the Korean lady who sold her gum at the convenience store. She’d spent the month of August reading in the cemetery behind their house and working on writing her own book. So her first day of high school was even more nerve-wracking than it was for most of the students at Sticksville Central. The way she figured it, everybody was going to hate her. They certainly had in her old town. Why should this one be any different?

There were plenty of reasons for the average high school student to hate her: she wasn’t chubby, but she wasn’t not chubby, which, to those naturally inclined to be unpleasant people, meant she was fat. Also, she wore more black eyeliner than most — barring only silent film actresses, really. Add to that the natural black hair she’d inherited from her mom and her affinity for black clothing, and she was like a walking teen vampire joke waiting to happen.

Today I Read…Summer Knight

Summer KnightToday I Read Summer Knight, the fourth book in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I’ve previously reviewed the first three books, Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril.

Harry Dresden has never been in so much trouble before–which is really saying something. The Red Court of the vampires is after his blood, both literally and figuratively. They’re threatening war with the White Council of wizards if the Council doesn’t hand Dresden over, and Harry isn’t exactly overflowing with allies on the Council. They think that he’s reckless, foolhardy, unprincipled, and dangerous, especially after he killed his mentor and his girlfriend when he was a teenager. (There were extenuating circumstances–namely, they were trying to kill him at the time.)

Now to prove himself, Harry must act as the Emissary for Queen Mab of the Winter Faerie Court, tasked to discover who killed the Knight of the Summer Court, Ronald Reuel, and prevent a war between Winter and Summer. Easier said than done.


Like Grave Peril, Summer Knight feels like part of a series as opposed to a stand-alone novel. Finally we learn more about why Dresden had the Doom hanging over his head in the first book, Storm Front. We meet the White Council that Dresden has been so wary of, and learn that he is right to be cautious–many of them have no love for him since he killed his mentor, Justin DuMorne, and his girlfriend and fellow apprentice Elaine Mallory (and points for people who can guess where Butcher picked those names from). We learn more about the structure of the fairy courts, though we still don’t know much about how he came to be under the power of his fairy godmother Leanansidhe. We see little of the vampire courts, though we do see their assassination attempts against Dresden. Many things (although not everything) that has been hinted at or alluded to in the past three books is pulled out into the open, sometimes kicking and screaming, though I have faith that not all has been revealed–Harry Dresden is never that simple, and there are still more than 10 books left in the series to go. However, major changes in the Dresdenverse happen because of Summer Knight–there are major shakeups in the Faerie Courts that I’m sure will have long-reaching consequences, as well as the oncoming war between the vampires and the wizards (c’mon, no way that’s a spoiler–Harry Dresden stop a war? Only by uniting everyone against him, and that’s already happened.). I’m looking forwards to finding out what happens next.


She regarded me in that empty silence for long moments more. It was unsettling to see a face so lovely look so wholly alien, as though something lurked behind those features that had little in common with me and did not care to make the effort to understand. That blank mask made my throat tighten, and I had to work not to let the gun in my hand shake. But then she did something that made her look even more alien, more frightening.

She smiled. A slow smile, cruel as a barbed knife. When she spoke, her voice sounded just as beautiful as it had before. But it was empty, quiet, haunting. She spoke, and it made me want to lean closer to her to hear her more clearly. “Clever,” she murmured. “Yes. Not too distracted to think. Just what I need.”

A cold shiver danced down my spine. “I don’t want any trouble,” I said. “Just go, and we can both pretend nothing happened.”

“But it has,” she murmured. Just the sound of her voice made the room feel colder. “You have seen through this veil. Proven your worth. How did you do it?”

“Static on the doorknob,” I said. “It should have been locked. You shouldn’t have been able to get in here, so you must have gone through it. And you danced around my questions rather than simply answering them.”

Still smiling, she nodded. “Go on.”

“You don’t have a purse. Not many women go out in a three-thousand-dollar suit and no purse.”

“Mmmm,” she said. “Yes. You’ll do perfectly, Mister Dresden.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “I’m having nothing more to do with faeries.”

“I don’t like being called that, Mister Dresden.”

“You’ll get over it. Get out of my office.”

“You should know, Mister Dresden, that my kind, from great to small, are bound to speak the truth.”

“That hasn’t slowed your ability to deceive.”

Her eyes glittered, and I saw her pupils change, slipping from round mortal orbs to slow feline lengths. Cat-eyed, she regarded me, unblinking. “Yet have I spoken. I plan to gamble. And I will gamble upon you.”

“Uh. What?”

“I require your service. Something precious has been stolen. I wish you to recover it.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want me to recover stolen goods for you?”

“Not for me,” she murmured. “For the rightful owners. I wish you to discover and catch the thief and to vindicate me.”

“Do it yourself,” I said.

“In this matter I cannot act wholly alone,” she murmured. “That is why I have chosen you to be my emissary. My agent.”

I laughed at her. That made something else come into those perfect, pale features-anger. Anger, cold and terrible, flashed in her eyes and all but froze the laugh in my throat. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m not making any more bargains with your folk. I don’t even know who you are.”

“Dear child,” she murmured, a slow edge to her voice. “The bargain has already been made. You gave your life, your fortune, your future, in exchange for power.”

“Yeah. With my godmother. And that’s still being contested.”

“No longer,” she said. “Even in this world of mortals, the concept of debt passes from one hand to the next. Selling mortgages, yes?”

My belly went cold. “What are you saying?”

Her teeth showed, sharp and white. It wasn’t a smile. “Your mortgage, mortal child, has been sold. I have purchased it. You are mine. And you will assist me in this matter.”

I set the gun down on my desk and opened the top drawer. I took out my letter opener, one of the standard machined jobs with a heavy, flat blade and a screw-grip handle. “You’re wrong,” I said, and the denial in my voice sounded patently obvious, even to me. “My godmother would never do that. For all I know, you’re trying to trick me.”

She smiled, watching me, her eyes bright. “Then by all means, let me reassure you of the truth.”

My left palm slammed down onto the table. I watched, startled, as I gripped the letter opener in my right hand, slasher-movie style. In a panic, I tried to hold back my hand, to drop the opener, but my arms were running on automatic, like they were someone else’s.

“Wait!” I shouted.

She regarded me, cold and distant and interested.

I slammed the letter opener down onto the back of my own hand, hard. My desk is a cheap one. The steel bit cleanly through the meat between my thumb and forefinger and sank into the desk, pinning me there. Pain washed up my arm even as blood started oozing out of the wound. I tried to fight it down, but I was panicked, in no condition to exert a lot of control. A whimper slipped out of me. I tried to pull the steel away, to get it out of my hand, but my arm simply twisted, wrenching the letter opener counterclockwise.

The pain flattened me. I wasn’t even able to get enough breath to scream.

The woman, the faerie, reached down and took my fingers away from the letter opener. She withdrew it with a sharp, decisive gesture and laid it flat on the desk, my blood gleaming all over it. “Wizard, you know as well as I. Were you not bound to me, I would have no such power over you.”

At that moment, most of what I knew was that my hand hurt, but some dim part of me realized she was telling the truth. Faeries don’t just get to ride in and play puppet master. You have to let them in. I’d let my godmother, Lea, in years before, when I was younger, dumber. I’d given her the slip last year, forced an abeyance of her claim that should have protected me for a year and a day.

But now she’d passed the reins to someone else. Someone who hadn’t been in on the second bargain.

I looked up at her, pain and sudden anger making my voice into a low, harsh growl. “Who are you?”

The woman ran an opalescent fingernail through the blood on my desk. She lifted it to her lips and idly touched it to her tongue. She smiled, slower, more sensual, and every bit as alien. “I have many names,” she murmured. “But you may call me Mab. Queen of Air and Darkness. Monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe.”


“Gatekeeper,” the Merlin said, “what is your vote?”

The silent figure of the Gatekeeper silently lifted one hand. “We have set our feet upon a darkling path,” he murmured. “A road that will only grow more dangerous. Our first steps are critical. We must make them with caution.”

The cowl turned toward Ebenezar, and the Gatekeeper said, “You love the boy, Wizard McCoy. You would fight to defend him. Your own dedication to our cause is not inconsiderable. I respect your choice.”

He turned toward LaFortier. “You question Dresden’s loyalty and his ability. You imply that only a bad seed can grow from bad soil. Your concerns are understandable-and if correct, then Dresden poses a major threat to the Council.”

He turned to Ancient Mai and inclined the cowl forward a few degrees. The Ancient responded with a slight bow of her own. “Ancient Mai,” the Gatekeeper said. “You question his ability to use his power wisely. To judge between right and wrong. You fear that DuMorne’s teaching may have twisted him in ways even he cannot yet see. Your fears, too, are justified.”

He turned to the Merlin. “Honored Merlin. You know that Dresden has drawn death and danger down upon the Council. You believe that if he is removed, so will be that danger. Your fears are understandable, but not reasonable. Regardless of what happens to Dresden, the

Red Court

has struck a blow against the Council too deep to be ignored. A cessation of current hostilities would only be the calm before the storm.”

“Enough, man,” Ebenezar demanded. “Vote, for or against.”

“I choose to base my vote upon a Trial. A test that will lay to rest the fears of one side of the issue, or prove falsely placed the faith of the other.”

“What Trial?” the Merlin asked.

“Mab,” the Gatekeeper said. “Let Dresden address Queen Mab’s request. Let him secure the assistance of Winter. If he does, that should lay to rest your concerns regarding his ability, LaFortier.”

LaFortier frowned, but then nodded at the Gatekeeper.

He turned next to Ancient Mai. “Should he accomplish this, it should show that he is willing to accept responsibility for his mistake and to work against his own best interests for the greater good of the Council. It should satisfy your concerns as to his judgement-to make the mistakes of youth is no crime, but not to learn from them is. Agreed?”

Ancient Mai narrowed her rheumy eyes, but gave the Gatekeeper a precise nod.

“And you, honored Merlin. Such a success may do much to alleviate the pressure of the coming war. If securing routes through the Nevernever places the

Red Court

at a severe enough disadvantage, it may even enable us to avoid it entirely. Surely it would prove Dresden’s dedication to the Council beyond a doubt.”

“That’s all well and good,” Ebenezar said. “But what happens if he fails?”

The Gatekeeper shrugged. “Then perhaps their fears are more justified than your affection, Wizard McCoy. We may indeed conclude that his appointment to full Wizard Initiate may have been premature.”

“All or nothing?” Ebenezar demanded. “Is that it? You expect the youngest wizard in the Council to get the best of Queen Mab somehow? Mab? That’s not a Trial. It’s a goddamned execution. How is he even supposed to know what her request was to begin with?”

I stood up, my legs shaking a little. “Ebenezar,” I said.

“How the hell is the boy supposed to know what she wants?”


“I’m not going to stand by while you-” He abruptly blinked and looked at me. So did everyone else.

“I know what Mab wants,” I said. “She approached me earlier today, sir. She asked me to investigate something for her. I turned her down.”

“Hell’s bells,” Ebenezar breathed. He took the blue bandanna from his pocket and mopped at his gleaming forehead. “Hoss, this is out of your depth.”

“Looks like it’s sink or swim, then,” I said.

The Gatekeeper murmured to me in English, “Will you accept this, Wizard Dresden?”

Today I Read…Triptych

Today I read Triptych, the debut novel by J.M. Frey.

They came from another world. They needed our help. Some gave them help, comfort, home, love. Some didn’t.

Kalp was assigned to work with Gwen and Basil, but their relationship gradually deepened until they become an Aglunated Unit, the proper grouping of three adults together. And isn’t Integration the goal of the Institute that they work for? Unfortunately some people don’t agree, and are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent mixing. Any lengths…and any times.

The first time that I saw J.M. Frey after reading Triptych, I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” I think that’s still the best review I can give this book. It’s always a bit of a cop-out for time travel stories to kill someone and bring them back at the end just to pull the emotional strings. Frey doesn’t use that trick. Instead, Kalp dies at the start of the book. The reader sees the reactions of the other characters, and then meets Kalp, the newcomer to Earth, the refugee from a dead world who has lost almost everything. The reader gets to know his loneliness, his fascination with these strange, squishy, leaking beings who have taken him in, and his genuine desire to help those who have helped him. We watch him explore our world, the beauty and the terror, and especially the bits that don’t make any sense (there’s a lot of those). We hope he lives–after all, it’s time travel, right?


And it hurts. But it’s almost a good hurt, because it’s a hurt that changes. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost… Frey’s gift is to create someone totally different from us who is just like us.

Everything comes in threes in Triptych. Past, present and future. Gwen, Basil and Kalp. The proper number for an Aglunated Unit. Stranger, friend, family. Life, death, and life again. Love, death and hope.


“You know,” Gwen said again, “those movies where the aliens come to Earth, and they…I dunno, they try to steal our natural resources, or create a nuclear winter so they can turn the Earth into slag, or they melt the polar ice caps and New York is under fathoms of water, or they clone us for slaves, or create terrifying bioweapons and wipe us all out and use our cities for farmland, or…all that stuff?” Evvie’s heart trembled. She could taste her pulse and her fear, thready and metallic on the back of her tongue. “Yes,” she said softly.

(Please, no.)

Gwen looked up. “It was nothing like that.”


“First task of Integration,” Basil says cheerily, “is learning which lunch lady to flatter at the canteen, innit?” He talks slow and enunciates clearly. Gwen must have told him to speak so in order to make his words more easily understood, and Kalp is startled at the caring that the gesture shows on both their parts; Gwen for thinking of it, and Basil for following her advice.

Basil’s mouth stretches, displaying his small white teeth in pleasure. This is a joke, Kalp is sure, but what sort he was unsure of. Slapstick? Sarcasm? Is Kalp meant to be the Straight Man or to reply? Panic surges. The tension twists tighter, and Kalp feels as if his air passage is closing.

Basil goes on: “Down the hall, take the second right, say it’s for me and they’ll know. Gwen wants coffee, black — bloody Canadian — and you get whatever you fancy. Cheers.” Kalp blinks. A desperate tightness presses at the back of his throat.

These were things Kalp has never been taught! Coffee, black? Is not the steaming beverage brown? How does one fetch black coffee?

Where does one find it? Take the second right to where, and how does one pick up a “right”? Who is bloody and do they need a medic?

He understands the last command, at least.

He lifts a hand in the air and stretches his mouth wide and says “huzzah!” with what he hopes is the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, anxious to get this one little thing right, to prove that he is not stupid, that he is useful.


There are also several human mothers or fathers nearby with their offspring. Catching sight of the first, Kalp is unable to breathe for a moment. A child. He aches, deep down, remembering how strongly he and his Aglunates had been hoping for one of their own. It hurts to see this perfect little being, so far away from his ruined planet, safe and happy and completely unaware of the horrors that had happened a galaxy away. This child must be very young. Perhaps it had not even taken its first breath when Kalp’s Aglunates had taken their last.

His eyes burn in sorrow and Kalp turns away, covering them.

“Kalp?” Gwen asks, and her voice is soft and filled with concern.

Kalp forces himself to look up, to fake a smile, but she can see that it is fake.

“The child,” he says. “I…it hurts me.”

Basil frowns. He balls up the empty wrapper of his sandwich and keeps pressing at it with his fingers nervously. “Hurts you how?”

“You would say…’my heart breaks.’”

Gwen sucks in a little gasp of breath and her eyes become wet again. “Oh my God, Kalp — we never asked. I feel like such a heel.

Did you lose anyone? Stupid, obviously you did, I just meant…I mean, we didn’t ask. 

To lose is an euphemism for die.

Kalp shakes his head. “My parents. Maru and Trus…my Aglunates. We were merely hoping for a child.” Gwen snakes out a hand and wraps it around Kalp’s. He notes with strange detachment that he no longer recoils from the feel of the secretions of her skin and the almost invisible swirl of wrinkles on the tips. He only takes pleasure in the warmth and intent of her touch.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly.

Kalp knows that this is not an Apology. Kalp has heard these words uttered in this way many times since coming to Earth. They are an expression of condolence. Basil pats his arm on the other side, and it feels good to be between them, to feel the warmth of their skin, the patter of their hearts, and know that he is protected and is precious.