Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-849-9
Yes, there’s a woman on the cover of Nicole Kimberling’s Happy Snak. The author has carved a name for herself writing some interesting and entertaining gay speculative fantasy as well as contemporary mysteries, but this one is going to be something totally… unusual.
Happy Snak is our heroine Gaia Jones’s diner, located in the human sector of Ai-Ki Station. The humans share the space station with aliens called the Kishocha which rule the space station. You have to read for yourself how the aliens look like, heh. Gaia’s problem begins when Kenjan, the consort of the Kishocha ruler, crashes into her shop to die in front of her. Because its blood-like substance is like acid on a lot of things, even human flesh, Gaia loses both her hands while trying to give the dying alien water. All this happens in the first chapter, and it’s just the beginning, folks.
Her restaurant damaged and her future prospects looking bleak indeed, Gaia has only her new hands to look forward to… until Oziru, the boss of everyone and everything in Ai-Ki Station, approaches her with an offer. In the confusing moments leading to Kenjan’s final breath, Gaia didn’t realize until Oziru informs her that she had inadvertently agreed to be the guardian of Kenjan’s spirit by her very actions as well as the late Kenjan’s. So now Oziru wants Gaia to leave Happy Snak and move into his dwelling so that she can tend to Kenjan’s ghost. You see, Kenjan was considered a prophet by his people and indeed, it is he who helped the humans and the Kishocha find a middle ground to co-exist in the same space without killing each other. And the Kishocha also believe that the ghost will linger around after the body dies.
Ever the entrepreneur, Gaia decides to impose her own conditions. Oziru will rebuild her Happy Snak – but in a better location this time – and that Happy Snak will also serve as the shrine where Kenjan’s spirit can stay happy and be watched over by Gaia. Oh, and Gaia must also make sure that Kenjan doesn’t possess anyone and go berserk. That way, Gaia gets her restaurant and Oziru gets to give his beloved a pleasant afterlife.
Gaia soon realizes that she has bitten more than she can chew when Kenjan is brought to his new home and she is sure that the Kishocha is still alive. Then again, perhaps the Kishocha have a different concept of life and death than humans do, heh. Kenjan, by his very proximity to humans, has absorbed some values and beliefs that his people do not approve of, so perhaps there is a good reason why someone would want that Kishocha dead and away from politics. Still, having both Kenjan and his adorable servant Wave Rider in Happy Snax can be a great thing, Gaia learns, as she soon begins marketing orange juice and snacks to the Kishocha who come to pay tribute to Kenjan’s “ghost”. However, there are folks out there who’d rather see Kenjan permanently out of the picture, especially when the lovelorn Kenjan insists on trying to contact his beloved Oziru. Poor Gaia finds herself caught in the middle of all this mess.
Oh boy, I don’t know how to describe this story other than to call it your friendly neighborhood Cthulhu story. Certainly, some readers will find some scenes involving Kishocha a bit too much, heh, and while I don’t have a problem with these scenes, I don’t blame anyone who has to take a deep steadying breath. Happy Snak is not a love story as the love thing is only a very small element in the story. And no, it’s not between Gaia and a neighborhood friendly Cthulhu type, so don’t worry.
However, this story is just fabulous. It is funny, it is also dramatic and intense at many moments, and I just adore Wave. Gaia is a great heroine as she strikes the right balance between being strong and being vulnerable. The world-building is also very impressive, as this story is as much a wonderful tale as it is a photogenic exploration of the amphibian environment of Ai-Ki Station.
When I reach the last page, I’m flummoxed by how much I enjoyed this book. Ms Kimberling hasn’t just told me a fun out-of-this-world story here, she has taken me to a fabulous new world and left me breathless with wonder. If you think you have the fortitude – hello, tentacles – dive in; chances are, you will be hard-pressed to come across another story as unique and unusual as Happy Snak. I feel like Wave after an orange juice binge. Excuse me while I try to decompress.