Friday, October 7, 2022

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Samurai Barber versus Ninja Hairstylist by Zed Dee


NOTE:  This Review is for a book that I obtained for free, read and reviewed as part of the Self Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC), which I am a Judge of this year.  This status will not affect my review score or verdict below.  

Samurai Barber versus Ninja Hairstylist is not a book I'd usually read - it's a self-published book with a title that sounds like silly jaunt (to say the least) and made no waves among my usual circles.  But this year I'm judging in the Self Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC) and this book got assigned to my group, which led to me giving it a shot.  To be honest, I suspected this would be the type of ridiculous book that I disfavor, which would lead to me DNFing it fairly quickly....

And I was wrong on that front, as SBvNH (sorry the full title is a mouthful)'s ridiculous setting is actually fairly charming - to the extent that a dystopian capitalist world in which technology like phones and trains have lives, samurai and ninjas are totally normal, and well, hairstyling with a sword can change personalities and beings can be charming.  The story actually uses its fun concept to tell an anti-capitalist story, if not pro-anarchist story, as the titular Samurai and Ninja struggle against a world where rich sinister conspiracy minded interests manipulate justice and the world to their own ends.....and deal with dueling minds about the ethics of haircutting.  I was actually close to recommending this - or at least recommending this go forward in the competition - until the book just ended in an incredibly unsatisfying way, to my major frustration.  

---------------------------------------------Plot Summary-----------------------------------------------------
The Samurai Barber is struggling - Tā wants to get a job to try and support Tāde lifestyle, but Tā also wants to perform Tāde greatest love: using Tāde katana to provide great haircuts to those who ask.  But when a day goes badly wrong, Tā finds Tāde life upturned - filled with money due to streaming it, but separated from Tāde katana after committing an accidental act of murder - murder Tā isn't even properly punished for thanks to a bafflingly wrong justice system.  And so Tā blames the murder on the master Ninja, who seems to be doing the unthinkable: cutting people's hair without Tāde permission.  

The Ninja Hairstylist meanwhile never meant to cause any harm - Tā merely meant to cut people's hair to make their lives better.  But when Tāde accidental apprentice took Tāde ideas to the next level - and began sowing the seeds of revolution, Tā realized that Tāde old path was insufficient and the only way forward was to take bigger acts....acts beyond Tāde capability.  But not beyond the capability of the Samurai Barber.......
Samurai Barber versus Ninja Hairstylist is written matter of factly about a world that is pretty fantastical and very different from our own.  Everyone uses a set of Chinese Neopronouns Tā/Tāde (which I tried to duplicate above), as explained midway through the novel, not because gender is eliminated, but because of an understanding that people see gender and other things differently.  The technology in this world - trains, cell phones, etc. - is largely treated as alive, so a train is "killed", which is of course some form of murder, not property damage, and a cell phone has a personality and attachment to its owner.  There are science fiction elements, which is why this is part of this competition, but there's a lot of fantastical elements even beyond those above - and the book treats all these things as if they're totally normal and unremarkable, resulting in a narrative that might otherwise seem pretty silly, but Dee's prose actually makes it pretty charming instead as you just read on to see how things go next.

And what goes on here - as we get swordfights, ridiculous conspiracies dealing with clones and contract-scams, willing and unwilling haircuts, and more - is a story that's well pretty heavily anti-capitalist as it uses some pretty heavy handed, but amusing, ideas to showcase a world where capitalist interests have taken control and will stop at nothing to seemingly keep the rich in control.  Justice is bent backwards, and as the Ninja recognizes, there needs to be something more than individual action to fix it.  And well, this works pretty well for the book's first 2/3. 

And then unfortunately, we get the book's final two acts.  There, the book introduces the perspective of a third character out of the blue and portends a new plot arc, and the final act returns to the Samurai to introduce a new element and provide a strange possible new threat and choice for the which point the book ends without any conclusion whatsoever.  And the book doesn't seem to be the first in a series as you might expect - this book was out in 2020 and the author's website does not seem to show any hint of a sequel coming, so it just....ends. 

Which is insanely frustrating and just a disappointment given how fun and unusual this type of story was for most of its page length.  It's what prevents this from being a book I can really recommend and not one I will be pushing forward in the SPSFC competition.   

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