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Happy Snak
Nicole Kimberling
Samhain Publishing, 272 pages

Happy Snak
Nicole Kimberling
Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her partner, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats and approximately 100,000 bees. In addition to editing, she writes science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels and novellas.

Nicole Kimberling Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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This science fiction novel features the most interesting and different, yet appealing, aliens I've read about since Michael Jasper's Wannoshay. I should qualify that by admitting that my tastes don't run to human-eating monster aliens, or aphorism-spouting "wise" ones.

Gaia Jones is a loner after a failed marriage; her family relations aren't very good either, so she transfers to the A-Ki Station, which has a human section built by the mysterious amphibious, hermaphroditic Kishocha. Only one of the Kishocha has wanted to interact with the humans, the charismatic Kenjan, who swiftly becomes a popular celebrity.

Gaia is interested in the aliens, but she mostly wants to get her tiny snack bar going. Unfortunately, she couldn't afford space on the main concourse. She's stuck in a crummy area, directly across from an aggressive competitor; she doesn't like the natty Fitzpatrick, special assistant to the ultra efficient ambassador Burns. Fitzpatrick may be natty and have a perfect haircut, but he called Gaia's stand "crappy shack" which she will not forgive.

Then one day an alien appears, obviously in deep distress. It's the famous Kenjan! It begs for her protection, and she agrees. She tries to help it, even when the alien's body secretions begin burning and even melting her skin. They both collapse, but not before it releases a mysterious object.

A few weeks later she wakens, still not up to par, and missing her hands. Kenjan's consort, the powerful Oziru, wants to interview her. Since no human has ever even seen Oziru, the ambassador and Fitzpatrick are on hand, worried. Gaia discovers that the protection she offered means no less than tending the shrine to the departed Kenjan forever, as soon as her new hands are attached. As Oziru is all-powerful, and the entire station runs at its command, this is non-negotiable. However Gaia does her best to negotiate, and gains a better setup for Happy Snak, which she can still run. Downside? Her new bedroom opens directly into the shrine, which smells weird and has threatening Kishochu guards on duty. Also, since the servant Wave Walker is rejected by Kenjan's "ghost" she ends up taking it on. She is utterly bewildered by the aliens' actions and customs -- nothing makes any sense.

Gaia also gains a couple of bored middle-aged workers who had volunteered to be friendly interfaces between aliens and humans, but the aliens totally avoided them. So they end up at Happy Snak, along with Wave.

When Wave gets on the scene, the book takes off. One of the best scenes in the book is when the Happy Snak employees discuss their mutual reproductive biologies. Nicole Kimberling manages that difficult task of swooping between funny and genuinely tense, pragmatic and poignant, and even awe-inspiring. The friendship between Gaia (who has issues getting close to anyone) and Wave, as they try to find a way to fit one another's lives, makes the book.

Copyright © 2010 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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