First a little mood music: Fela Kuti’s Fe Fe Naa Efe. With that in the background, we can get started. As you can tell from this song, this is one funky book.
Coyote Kings, Book One: Space-Age Bachelor Pad is Afrofuturism exactly as advertised — set in a fanciful yet realistic present/near-future, it is a skillful mix and remix of Black/Diasporic life couched in African cultural mythos and norms. The book’s characters are living the modern Black experience in a white, Western world. Knowing the key differences between Star Trek: OG, Star Trek: TNG, and Star Trek: DS9 is just as relevant to the plot and characters of Coyote Kings as knowing in Ancient Egyptian history the difference between a Jackal and whatever the hell the Set-animal is supposed to be (that’s a little Egyptophile humor there…). (And yes, I’m assuming you’re clear on OG, TNG, and DS9, so no links for those. I’mma need you to hit the Google on your own, then come back.)
Minister Faust is a master DJ, mixing and mashing these elements together flawlessly. And it is not only real life shit, but real life blerd shit. The real life we live, in which we can drop a hip-hop reference when talking about an anime character while wearing our favorite superhero t-shirt. This is a world where an image like this makes perfect sense:
And we can argue about whether or not some other super would fit Batman’s spot better — I mean, I’d push for Black Panther, on account of the king/pharoah angle, but you know, that’s just me.
The story centers around two Black men, Hamza and Yehat, and their struggles against the tedium of run-of-the-mill jobs, limited opportunities for advancement, and the expectations and schemes of people around them. These two, through reasons both within and outside of their control, are at the bottom of the ladder in Edmonton, Canada, with nothing to do but watch re-runs, argue about philosophy, and drag themselves to work each day. Now, don’t think this book is too serious – it isn’t. It is, in fact, hilarious. Let me give you a quote. The story starts on a Wednesday, and we’re treated to this little intro:
…Wednesday is the day that says it all. In Norse mythology it would’ve been Woden’s Day, or Odin’s Day….and what day gets named after him? Wednesday: it’s like Grade 8 in junior high or Grade 11 in high school – the big hump, the long dump. Odin was the top dog, father of The Mighty Thor, hander-over of the invincible hammer Mjollnir and all-around troll-ass-kicking holder of the title THE MAN. And what day do we give him? Tough break, Odes.
The first several chapters open with “character sheets” straight out of a role-playing game. These give insight into the personalities and flaws of each person, and some hints of how they’ll interact with the world. Hamza is described as:
Intelligence: High, Strength: Unkillable, Shit Points, take/give: 50/100+, Wisdom: Fortune cookie +8; experiential -2.
Hamza is a classic hero. He loves beautiful, dangerous women, ice cream sandwiches, and fast cars with fins on the back. You like him right away, all the more because his flaws, which the book takes its time revealing, are so genuine. He’s a guy you always want to know more about.
Setting the plot in motion is the appearance of the only female character, Sheremnefer, an amazingly beautiful woman with a mysterious past steeped in Axum and Kush. You’re never entirely sure what her set up is, even at the end she’s as enigmatic as she was when we met her. But you know she’s got some tricks up her sleeve and that some of those tricks will get someone killed. There aren’t a lot of women in this book, but the ones there are, are well portrayed. If you’re looking for something with a bit more gender balance, this isn’t the book for you, but the lack of female characters didn’t bother me much.
One of the coolest things about Coyote Kings is that Minister Faust takes full advantage of the fact that many people will be buying the book electronically. At several key points in the story he includes a “theme song” for the chapter, with a link from the ebook to his own YouTube channel where you can play the song. This makes reading the book a real multimedia, 21st century experience while also playing some tribute to traditional African storytelling styles, in which the song and the story are intertwined. I enjoyed crawling into the minds of the characters through Fela Kuti’s back beats and Vangelis’ haunting tones.
There are a few weaknesses in the book. Faust skillfully represents a variety of dialects and modes of speaking. From the fake “Jamaican” or Jafaican accent of the decidedly NOT Jamaican Alpha Cat to the overly academic introspective muttering of the pseudo-intellectual Digaestus Caesar, there is no doubt that Faust has an ear for real conversation. The problem is that the point of view of each character switches every 4 or 5 pages, so there were points where I was getting mental whiplash going from one character and dialect to the next. This is a minor ish, but something to be aware of as you get deeper and deeper into the main points of view.
The tale ends with our two characters riding off into their next adventure. In total, I enjoyed this book, beginning to end. It is classic modern, urban science fiction, set in a world I know and with characters I’ve eaten in Ethiopian restaurants with. I entirely recommend this one to anyone who likes urban sci-fi. Faust also has several other books and collections of short stories available through his website. This is labeled as “Book One”, so I’m definitely looking forward to Book Two.
For October, I’m going to leave urban fantasy behind and get out of my comfort zone. I’ll announce the novel on the Black Nerd Problems twitter feed, once I’ve committed, in case you want to read along. Of course, if you want to put in your recommendation, hit me in the comments or through our tweets.