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Howard Cincotta
Memories of Tuna Fish
Cincotta’s collection offers stories of complicated relationships, fragmented families, and people in compromising

In “The Water Bearer,” traveling salesman Alex enjoys a breezy “summer affair” with Pennsylvania waitress Mary Anne Womack. The two spend nights together only when he’s passing through; Alex calls it “a series of one-night stands.” But when Alex can’t get Mary Anne off his mind, he realizes that he truly values their relationship and that she may not feel the same way. Other characters in this book experience romantic hurdles, as well, such as Stephen in “The Daughter of My Former Lover.” He thinks back to his relationship with Natalie and how her 6-year-old daughter, Emily, used to express herself with kicks and the occasional punch. 

Family is also a recurring theme; in “Body Slam,” for instance, retired wrestler The Kid wants to even the score with his father, who abandoned him and his mother. He does so in the ring, as his dad is none other than the world wrestling champion, El Cid. Although these stories are sometimes droll, they’re also unnerving, and the humor’s tone can be dark. A figure who calls himself “Lucifer” appears in “The Flow,” offering to help Lawrence Brick overcome his writer’s block in exchange for his soul; however, Lawrence may be able to change the terms of the deal by striking his own bargain. Similarly, “Bethesda, Exit Only,” in which a father gets lost while driving his kid to a Maryland school, is initially funny—but as his need for directions increases, so does his ire, and road rage becomes a distinct possibility.

The vibrant characters effectively ground these stories in reality and make the otherworldly elements feel less fantastical than they might have otherwise. The man who calls himself “Lucifer,” for example, comes across as an arrogant, pretentious man whom the narration takes to calling by his other moniker “Scratch.” The narrator of “How I Made My First $200 Million” details the genesis of his widely popular online game, AfterLife, which involves his mentally illfather, who heard what he thought were voices of demigods; ultimately, it’s a story about a boy who found inspiration in his loving dad. Characters’ flaws often make them more believable; in “Lithics,” William fondly recalls Rebecca, a girl from his only year at a New Mexico high school; one of their last moments together included a humiliating incident that he’d rather forget. 

Readers aren’t likely to forget Cincotta’s prose, though, which beautifies not only the characters’
environments, but also remnants of the days gone by: “Art Deco shapes and neon lights shone over a landscape of stone fences and empty fields that turned yellow and brittle in the winter cold. Now it was a relic of a bulldozed past, sitting on a frontage road, squeezed between a tire outlet and a strip mall.” Readers will find these people and places familiar, and they’ll become invested in their fates when they stumble or take a wrong turn.

Keenly written, relatable, and compelling tales.

Climbing the Rain
Perched on the edge of the solar system, the Illium Archipelago has drastically changed humankind’s destiny. Leyden, a disgraced businessman with a weakness for the ladies, is sprung from prison by a Rigelian syndicate so that his negotiating skills can help the dubious “Eëlios Biological Mission.” 

His trek to a seldom visited, remote planet is part of their plan to exploit the planet’s fertile rainforest. The century-old “native” colony on Eëlios—they’re green-skinned folk who dwell in the giant forest canopy—uneasily embrace Leyden, who begins to transform bodily and emotionally. 

While very little happens that can’t be predicted (or storyboarded for Hollywood), Cincotta’s novel ably guides the reader through a verdure of lush landscapes featuring sketches of borderline-pulp characters, including double-dealing warriors and a seductress. 

The exotic deep-space adventure echoes genre landmarks, notably James Cameron’s Avatar and the like, while one of his supporting characters shares a similar name with Hayao Miyazaki’s eco-friendly heroine Nausicaa (or perhaps her Greek forebear from The Odyssey). Still, the derivatives seldom wilt the basic entertainment factor of this well-cultivated yarn.

Tree-hugging sci-fi—familiar stuff that still grows on you.