Coffee and the book-obsessed go together like toddlers and their favorite toy. It isn’t necessary to the turning of the universe but no one wants to see what happens when the coffee isn’t there to pacify the reader – especially when that oh-so trusted author leaves them dangling on a cliffhanger. I’m absolutely certain coffee has postponed, if not altogether stopped, murders.
So imagine my surprise when Alex Shvartsman’s anthology of fourteen caffeinated tales opened with a story about a person who DIDN’T DRINK COFFEE. She couldn’t, if she was to keep her power of reading her customers’ future in the dark mirrored surface of the hot, aromatic liquid. That was the point I became hooked on the book and I still consider it a quite daring and brilliant way to introduce the COFFEE anthology (“The Everywhere Cafe” – A.C. Wise).
Ken Liu models his “story The Perfect Book” on Pandora’s Music Genome Project. This struck me as very apt to our current day because I’ve personally seen software programs which are able to write research papers and blog posts. What can take me thirty minutes to a number of hours to fact-check and flesh-out, I’ve witnessed the algorithm take seconds to create and cite. In Liu’s tale book piracy is eliminated because every book is ordered for each customer upon request and formed at that moment from a jumble of previous authors’ sentences. In this case, it’s the setting which is linked to coffee – a coffee house.
“Toilet Gnomes At War.” Now, read that again, because it is even more fun the second and third times. Thanks to Beth Cato for such a block of wit and humor in this anthology! Who hasn’t ever joked about gremlins in the walls? What if there were…and they’ve been without their coffee for awhile?
Peter Sursi’s “The Seven Samovars” is the tale that left me yearning for the novel-length version. His contribution to the anthology was educational for me too because I’d never even heard of a “samovar” – most often a Middle Eastern or Russian urn in which boiling water is poured for making tea or coffee. The coffee house is looking to hire a new employee, but their products are somewhat non-traditional. Each of their seven samovars contains something magical, something incredible, and remembering each could prove to be a challenge to the prospective job applicant.
Each reader will digest “From the Shores of Tripoli” differently. Some will find a ghost story. Others, like me, will simply see a contemporary tale of oneupmanship and the petty vengeful actions we never let out. Jonathan Shipley penned a masterwork for there to be a range of interpretive options. I felt small enjoying this story about a divorced couple. But then, sometimes, the only emotional satisfaction we’ll ever see in some areas of our lives (or allow ourselves) is in a story.
If coffee hasn’t yet topped your list as the most versatile substance on Earth, consider “The Ghost in the Coffee Machine” by Charity Tahmaseb. Need an exorcist? Call Charity and her grandmother. They use coffee – always twelve cups – to trap ghosts. They even have a catch-and-release policy.
I could go on. Those are only a handful of the fourteen tales. There are plenty more ways to have your coffee and drink it too. Did you know that there’s a Japanese monkey-cat creature, the civet, which digests the coffee cherry and civet farmers pick the “beans” out of its feces? Likewise for a specific heard of elephants in Africa. Very, very strange. And, whose idea was it exactly to try those “beans” the first time? People are just plain odd.
Rating: 10/10 cups of coffee
Publisher: UFO Publishing
Pub. Date: December 3, 2013