Johannes Cabal short stories by Jonathan L. Howard

a-long-spoon

Read January 2017
Recommended for fans of Cabal
 ★     ★    ★    ★    ★   

When the giant spider devil appeared in The Fall of the House of Cabal, it wasn’t long before I was giggling. How can you not at a devil who uses the ‘Girl Guide’ oath to ‘dub’ clauses on her swearing the traditional binding oaths? When one of Howard’s less sarcastic footnotes pointed me toward the novelette where she first made the acquaintance of Johannes, I had to stop and read it, particularly after it referenced Cabal turning into a haddock.

A classic set up with Johannes Cabal as the reserved straight-man and Zarenyia the playful and quite bored devil provides engaging dialogue as they set on an adventure. The word-play consistently amuses: “She was undoubtedly female, and probably very attractive in a shallow “really rather beautiful” sort of way.” I chuckled out loud when Cabal tried to explain the metaphor “a long spoon when one sups with the devil” to her– it was the sort of dialogue that puts one in mind of Abbott and Costello. I’m not sure how well this would play for people unfamiliar with the series, as part of the joy is knowing Cabal is not only the extreme stereotype of the logical scientist, but a bit of a misanthrope in his views on humanity.

Against all common sense, I’m beginning to like you,’ he said.
‘Even though I’m a devil and I have a lot of legs and I devour the souls of my prey through the expedient of lethal orgasms?’
‘I’m still waiting for you to raise a bad point.’
She slapped him lightly on the back. ‘You charmer.’

It reads a bit like Howard was channeling Douglas Adams, as there’s a bit that involves Chaos (which sounds remarkably like the Infinity Drive). Delightful, and I’m glad it’s on my kindle and available for re-read.

You can purchase it–which I recommend, as encouragement and support for the author–but it is also available for free on Tor.com’s site: http://www.tor.com/2014/12/18/a-long-…

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exeunt-demon-king

Read January 2017
Recommended for fans of ghost stories
 ★     ★    ★    1/2

It is Christmas and Police Sergeant Parkin has stopped by Johannes Cabal’s house to collect his annual donation to the police benevolent fun. Johannes finds himself unexpectedly moved by Parkin’s neutral views on his necromantic work:

“‘Could…’ Cabal floundered in the unfamiliar waters of social interaction for a moment. ‘Could I interest you in a drink before you go?'”

They end up sitting by the fire, drinking and exchanging stories, when Johannes decides to share one of his early encounters with a ghost who was responsible for the deaths of four theater actors.

The description mentions pant-o-mime, and it’s more than a bit misleading. The British version of the term refers to a low-brow production, often for children, with slapstick, music and jokes, usually performed around Christmas time. Most empathetically not soundless people in an invisible box. It’s nicely done, although it lacks some of the word-play and humor of later Cabal stories. An ominous atmosphere develops, making it feel like a traditional ghost story crossed with Phantom of the Opera. It has very little of Cabal’s trademark acerbic wit, being more focused on the dynamic between the ghost and Cabal. Still, a fun quick read.

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ouroboros-ouzo

Read February 2017
 ★     ★    1/2

My first experience with ouzo is with Douglas Adams in Life, the Universe and Everything. Being from farm type, working-class people in the German and Scandanavian hinterlands of America, I had absolutely no idea what it was. In those days, kids, there wasn’t any internet. You wanted to know what something was, you looked it up at the library using the encyclopedia (think ‘Wikipedia’ with actual, real references, complied by educated people) or using the Mirriam-Webster dictionary you had lying around the house. Being unwilling to stop reading for a pesky definition means I often pieced together meaning based on the text. Somehow, I developed the idea that ouzo was a lot like olive oil, a point of confusion which persisted through the book but which was fortunately, rather unimportant.

Ouzo appears again, when Johannes is willing to pay out a special gold coin’s worth of difficult favors to see if his current line of research will pay dividends. Silly, crabby Johannes, who can’t see the future for what it is (and seems to share a disturbingly similar and simple impression of ‘choice’ as Blake Crouch in Dark Matter). I feel this one would have benefited from a bit more fleshing out, a bit less holding things back at the beginning for the sake of surprise, and a bit more dialogue. It has an interesting core. The best part was the afterward, where Howard shares that the title (and then story) came about after a Twitter dare with Kadrey and Wendig. Twitter has much that is inane and hollow to answer for. Luckily, this story isn’t one of those howls in the ether.

I don’t think I ever have tried ouzo, but it seems to be one of those drinks that one kicks back with a rush and a grimace, and given it’s connection with some of the weirder stories in literature, I think it’s safest to stay away.

*******************************************

 

the-death-of-me

Read February 2017
 ★     ★    ★    1/2

Johannes needs to run to town and pick up a few things, only in his case it doesn’t come close to a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. This is a fuller story, more developed, with the acerbic tone that so characterizes the series.

“Walking helped him to think and, today, he was thinking what an unpleasant day it was to be walking… Cabal regarded sweating as one of Nature’s more subtle revenges upon humanity and its pretensions to Prime Species.”

In the traditions of many a Grimm fairy tale, he meets a black coach drawn by black horses, a mysterious and beautiful woman inside.

“They looked at each other for a long moment, she in her widow’s weeds, he in his disgruntlement.”

It is dark tale, giving some background to Cabal’s environment and showcasing his immoral side, so recently found in  “Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.” Mood is well developed. I don’t suggest it if you are looking for a charming protagonist, but it’s a rather interesting little challenge.

Read it at Tor: http://www.tor.com/2013/09/10/the-death-of-me/

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Last, but not least,
The House of Gears, April 2011.

Read February 2017
 ★     ★    ★    1/2

 

“He liked to believe he was a practical man yet sometimes practicality weighed against his dignity, and his dignity was a high horse he kept permanently saddled.”

This is Johannes Cabal in fine fettle, irritable with the world at large for the inconvenience, and predisposed to murderous thoughts, as long as it removes the annoyances. Besides, one is always in need of fresh parts.

“‘Your fame precedes you,” he simpered, like a man who is reading How to Simper in Five Weeks and is up to day three.
Cabal looked at him, silently appalled. If the horrible little man asked him for his autograph, he decided, it would be necessary to kill him.”

It’s a story full of detail and world-building, or, at least, house-building. Cabal is still on his search for the antidote to death, which leads him to the mysterious Monsieur Samhet. There’s a strong steampunk component that will likely appeal to steampunk fans. It was well done, but thematically, it’s just not to my optimal tastes. Apparently, I prefer giant lady-spiders. Who knew?

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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2 Responses to Johannes Cabal short stories by Jonathan L. Howard

  1. neotiamat says:

    The Long Spoon is my absolute favorite of the short stories. I feel like the Cabal books are at their very best when Cabal is playing off a strong second character, whether Zareniya, or Leonie Barrow, or Horst.

    That said, House of Gears is probably my second favorite because it’s actually a pretty good horror story. Monsieur Samhet is genuinely creepy, and the house is… yeah. It doesn’t have the byplay of Long Spoon, but it oozes atmosphere.

    • thebookgator says:

      Agree on Zareniya! Such a fun character. I can see why House of Gears would appeal. It is well written and definitely shows the development of Howard’s writing style in the Cabal world. Just the creeping horror is not my type 🙂 I’m such a wuss.

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