Wrote earlier about the Texas-Brooklyn author Miracle Jones, who gets his words out there through the interwebs and despite the undeserved lack of a major publishing house (whatever those even are, anymore). Jones' e-books Sharing and Shifting (available as free downloads on Smashwords*) come highly recommended to the strong of heart and stomach. Was going to describe Sharing as "Chronicles of Narnia meets William Burroughs by way of Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but then it turns out to be laying groundwork for Shifting's urban psychic-cyberpunk thriller and by then most of the Pevensies have been killed off. There's far too much skanky and robust sex in these books for kids anyway. And "cyberpunk" doesn't quite nail it. Shifting more recalls cyberpunk forerunners such as Samuel Delany (on steroids) or Alfred Bester (on crack), or Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix yarns, with their body-mod cults in outer space.
Neither book is science fiction per se but Jones gives us plenty of genre tropes: parallel universes, mind and matter transfer, biology run amok. The narratives keep driving forward and Jones explains enough to keep you grounded. OK, we have a city in the brain folds of an enormous floating octopus, which moves from one reality to another, acquiring new immigrants and cultural minglings. In this gritty world of Blade-Runner-and-the-Star-Wars-bar shaped by unknown laws of physics, we have levels of psychic advancement called "folding": Sharing is telepathy, Shifting is telekinesis, Burning is pyrokinesis, Traveling is jumping between dimensions, and so on.
Sharing's coming of age novel centers on the character of Charlotte, who we follow from childhood to puberty through hardships that would make Job say you've got to be kidding. No plague of boils but she does have to cook several of her friends and serve them to the evil Unicorn-god-thing who is top dog in the little universe she inhabits.
Shifting's love story takes place on the aforementioned Octopus, named The General. There, Charlotte (who can Share) meets Ljubo (who can Share and Shift) and they mostly fight and bicker throughout the novel. But then the book is almost entirely fighting, as all hell breaks loose among various factions on, in, and outside of The General. We seriously need a third book, as Shifting ends in mid-war with the lovers parting but it's been almost three years since Shifting was published so we may have to write the rest in our heads.
The forward drive of the narratives stems in part from Jones' feverish imagination and sick humor. You keep reading because he keeps throwing new, disgusting creatures and situations at you, seducing you into wanting to know where this is going. In Sharing, the heroine doesn't just cook her friends for the evil unicorn but a variety of other life forms that he brings to her in bags, dead or semi-conscious, through a dimensional doorway. Was reading the following passage in a restaurant and had to look away from the e-reader momentarily because it started cracking me up:
Inside the sack was a giant maggot the size of a pony. According to Asfodel, the
maggot was only slightly psychic, and also stupid and brutal. Asfodel warned
Charlotte against Sharing with the creature, but she couldn’t help herself and as
the maggot flopped onto the kitchen floor like a gaffed fish, she eased into its
consciousness and tried to soothe it. The maggot fought harder, turning itself in
circles and banging into the cabinets, causing pots and pans to spill out all over the
Charlotte cut the connection as fast as she could, but not before the maggot
learned her name. The maggot didn’t have eyes. At one end it had a curved green
flange as sharp as a knife that groped and twisted as it searched for flesh. At the
other end, it had a tiny sphincter that bubbled and frothed like spilled beer.
“Chaaaaaaarrrrrlottttte,” the maggot whispered from the sphincter as it flopped
blindly around the kitchen, searching for her neck with the sharp flange.
Shifting is the better book but don't even try to read it without first learning the vocabulary and concepts in Sharing. Minus the first novel you wouldn't know, for example, that the "fairy" creatures Jones keeps mentioning are sentient, telepathic cockroaches, or what "shape trees" are. The opening chapters of Sharing are truly dark and unsettling, and create an emotional undertow that sloshes through both books like a bad childhood dream.
*Update: Sometime after this post Sharing and Shifting became unavailable as free e-books, and several people asked "What's up with that?" It appears Sharing, will be available again in January 2015 from Instar Books, according to this catalog. Instar also plans to e-publish the rest of the "Fold" series.