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The Fortune Follies
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-403-9
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 221 Pages
Published: March 2018

From inside the flap

After the end of World War Two, American society is recuperating from the human loss of war, an uneven social system, and a massive corporation that has caused a technological boom. Seeing a new opportunity, Sarah Igarashi departs from her home on the coast of Alaska to meet her cousin in Seattle where she stumbles to find her place in a new city filled with otherworldly technologies and ideals. In contrast is her cousin, Penelope, who is quite comfortable navigating through a rapidly changing society while also pursuing a singing career with the assistance of her uncle and close cousin, George. However, in pursuing their own goals, each family member is met with outward and inward conflicts; from familial deception to social upheaval and natural disasters.

Reviews and Awards

The Fortune Follies by Catori Sarmiento does not disappoint. This fiery new alternative history novel introduces its readers to both a vaguely familiar Seattle and a cast of troubled characters. We think you’re going to want to hear about this one.

In Sarmiento’s world, America did not bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. Instead, it executed Operation Downfall, and in the years since, the world has taken a turn toward the technological.

As the novel opens, Sarah Igarashi ventures from her home in Alaska to Seattle, a city centered around a monopoly called Sinclair Industries. This powerful enterprise is known not only for its cigarettes that provide energy but also for its vastly underpaid workers and its contribution to the city’s uneven social system, prejudice, and violence.

When Sarah arrives in Seattle, she moves straight in with her cousin Penny, a sixteen-year old with enough money to live in a beautiful house and to chase her musical dreams. But Sarah doesn’t get much time to relax. Moments later, Penny asks Sarah how she plans to pay her rent. As you might guess, that leads her straight into the arms of Sinclair Industries.

“It’s impossible to walk when the world is collapsing.”

The author does a wonderful job of demonstrating growth with nearly every character in the novel. For example, Penny might seem a bit spoiled and self-centered in the early going, but as we get to know her, our first judgment comes with a few complications.

This is a quote from author Catori Sarmiento from her novel The Fortune Follies. "You have to stick your hand in the mud before you can wash them clean."

While the alternative history is a strong element to this story, the main conflicts come in the form of familial and personal complications. Penny’s cousin-in-law, Catherine, offers the reader perhaps the most heartbreaking story in this one. We don’t want to say too much about it, but we can say that it involves a bathtub and a heaping pile of reader empathy.

Sarmiento’s skill lies clearly within her characters and their intimate storylines. Her strong plot meshes naturally with their personal histories. However, there are a few moments in Fortune Follies where the writing could have been cleaned up a bit more. Passive voice and description occasionally run a bit longer than they need to, and the violent and essential scenes are sometimes easier to miss than they should be. But don’t think that takes away from any bit of the enjoyment of this novel.

In the end, The Fortune Follies (Double Dragon Ebooks, 2018) proves to be a truly endearing, entertaining, and excellent read. Our readers flew through its final chapters, desirous of learning where Sarah and Penny will end up and what will come of Seattle. It comes highly recommended to fans of alternative history, Japanese culture, and uneven social systems.

The Fortune Follies (Excerpt)


1

Sarah

Escaping the Bond

March 1949

It was a terrible thing that she did and it had been necessary. Rippling before her mind are the long white envelopes that she tore open. As expected, there were great amounts of cash in each. She took them all, making sure to take the envelopes with her, hid them deep in her purse, and snuck out the back exit of the church as the chatter from the party faded. She knows that she should feel a rousing despondency but it hangs like a silver lure in a saltwater marsh.

Sitting by the porthole window, Sarah makes sure she can watch the shore of Alaska fade into the distance, watching the clouds and the sea. At times a splash and the bobbing heads of seals rise and dip back against the glass. A cheap room by the standards of a luxury ocean liner. Hers is the bottom bunk. An older woman naps on the top, snoring loudly; in the adjacent bunk is a young boy traveling alone who left his luggage so he could eat his lunch in the restaurant upstairs. The bed above his holds a luggage case that belonged to a "P.L. Weathers" who has yet been unseen. Revving in the sky causes her to glance up to the tiny window to spy a grey airplane passing overhead. There have been more military airplanes these last few years for reasons she hardly considered. Their presence as concerning as a flock of geese passing overhead; noticeable but not affecting.

She steadies her feet to the movements of the ship as she ascends the steel stairs and past the racket of churning engines, higher and higher, all the way to the fourth floor. The narrow hallway is plastered with bulbous yellow wallpaper that had once been white, changing drastically to a newer, more lustrous, gilded, floral design when she passes the second floor. On reaching the great mezzanine, there is a wide-open space with a central lounge surrounded by a curved wet bar where tuxedo-clad bartenders stand at attention with their hands resting stiffly at the small of their backs. Each face bears a kind grimace that can be mistaken for resolve. Tall windows on each wall guide her eyes to an enormous stained glass ceiling where Scarlet Peacock butterflies dance across a clear surface to let in overcast sunlight, brightening the intricate floral designs in the carpet. White and pink roses interweave with bluebells to form a repeating circular pattern separated by pudgy-cheekedcherubs. So detailed are the woven threads that each petal is distinguishable from the others and every angelic body seems poised to flutter up from the threads. Two sizable wooden doors engraved with harp-playing angels stand between the comfortable warmth and the sea winds on the veranda.

Absorbing the surroundings of wealth, it seems wrong that some should have so much and others so little. A glance at her own threadbare clothes handed down by her older sister easily displays her class, made all the more obvious by those walking the upper deck, particularly a man in a black suit escorting a small girl, no older than five, across the room and to the outside deck. As the little girl skips, the length of the bright orange fox fur wrapped firmly around her neck and clasped in the front with a bejeweled oval broach bobs up and down the front of her azure wool coat. Why should a girl have more money hanging on her shoulders than Sarah had in her life? The girl reminds her of her cousin. A fickle girl with an overwhelming inheritance. Overwhelmed by the scene, she returns to the deck where a handful of passengers admire the scenery, some with children who are left to play freely. Clear blue above her where she expected rain and a wafting heat from which she was already moist. A ribbon of green is the sea. Unending. In the midst are parcels of lands in lines too straight to be made by nature. From white shores to spikes rising into a milky sky. Settled on these are square, flat topped buildings painted white. From behind are four large square pillars with electrical towers on either side. Jutting out from the shore, steel arms pump and pull the water. There were three of these such islands. A speck of white wearing a yellow cap moves like an insect along the shore next to one of the arms. She realizes then that it is a person. A click from the speaker set above the doorway makes her flinch in surprise, and then a commercialized voice emerges:

"Ladies and Gentleman, as we approach the docks, please marvel at the electrical engineering that powers everything in the city, from radios to trains. It is so unique that it is the only such feat on the entire West Coast. This, of course, is a creation of the great Mr. Robert Sinclair. Yes! Robert Sinclair: the man, the visionary. You've heard of his automatons, now see what he can do with an entire city! During your stay on shore, be sure to visit the many sights made possible by Mr. Sinclair's extraordinary imagination, including the one-of-a-kind sky train."

The announcement ceases abruptly. Who had not heard of the man, Sinclair? Not only are his businesses ubiquitous, but it was his invention of the Iron Boy automatons that helped win the war. Perhaps the announcement had influenced her, but she too becomes excited to see what such a man has done to a city. Though she had passed by here years before, the circumstances of that arrival cloud any clear memory she has of Seattle.

Even in the day, lights flash from towers so it can be seen in the clouds. Far to the right, past the port and buildings stands a tower rising higher than the others and a red brick factory below it where black clouds erupt from smokestacks anda sign atop reads "Sinclair Industries". The approach tothe port reveals fisheries, docks, sailboats pulled into the wooden docks and fishing boats unloading their catch. On the pier stands a FerrisWheel where on the spoke a giant clock of silver and gold might glimmer if the sun ever emerges from behind the clouds. Her eyes are drawn to a system of tall, wide pylons with gaps in the center connecting rail lines. Through the towers, a sky train winds about like a snake through corn stalks. As the liner glides into port, a statue comes clearer into view.

A mermaid nearly one hundred feet tall, the top of her head risingfar above the mast of the ship. Sarah looks down to see that the statue had been driven down into the seabed where the mermaid's tail bends under the water,barnacles latched on to the lowest part, dark lines markingpast tides. The statue, long hair running slick down her back, is bare-breasted andreaches her arms into the air, welcoming sailors into her bosom with a motherly smile. As the liner settles in, bells ring from below. Her head towards the sky, Sarah finds colorful hot air balloons floating at different levels, each one with alternating stripes of red, white, and blue. Where the basket should be is a steel box fitted with megaphones on each side. The sea invades her senseswith a murky salt so strong she coughs. Cawing seagulls fly every which way. Three come down to land their orange feet on the edge of the pier to screech at her, begging for scraps. She shoos them off with a flick of her hand as she focuses carefully on her steps down the ramp while the carpet bag slaps at her side. Walking on, she startles when a gruff voice addresses her. She snaps her head up tosee a blue-uniformed man whose brass rank makes her squint.

"You have to go out of the INS exit."

"Pardon?"

"The INS exit." He points to the port side where men were already unloading baggage from a ramp, one at the top sliding down suitcases to another who catches them and places each in a roller bin. Other passengers are already filing down the ramp and into a white square building with one large wooden door, a glass window and gold letters saying, "Immigration Service."

"Down there?" she asks, pointing, sure that there must be some mistake.

He nods. She knows better than to resist authority and toes carefully along the ramp with the others to the plain building, where inside there is an even plainer room. A bench with worn varnish where those before sat. White walls to match white floors. The only decorations are framed posters. Above the bench, a blue star with a standing eagle in the center on a white background. Next to this are words all in capital letters saying "Freedom to Work at Sinclair Industries" with a happy-faced white woman in blue coveralls working on a machine Sarah does not recognize. The others waiting before her are addressed and dismissed to sit or to wait in a far room.

A voice calls, "Yes?"

Sarah turns to the sound where a woman in a grey blazer with a buttoned-up high collar sits behind a reception desk. Sarah walks forward, keeping her bag with her.

"I'm here visiting my cousin," Sarah says.

The woman flicks thickly lashed eyes to her, commenting, "Your English is very good."

Sarah gives a sarcastic smirk and nods.

The woman lifts her eyebrows while taking a long slip of paper and a pen from behind the counter and setting it before Sarah.

"Fill this out, and I need some form of identification."

Sarah rifles through her pockets for a thin billfold to present her brown Alaskan residence card, which is quickly taken, then stands, writing answers to the simple questions. Putting the pen down, she slides the paper to the woman who takes it wordlessly. Skimming it, she glances back up.

"I see. Please sit down in the room over there." She motions to a closed door marked "Intermittent" in painted black letters. "Until a relative can vouchsafe for you, you'll have to wait."

"How long will that be?"

She meets the young girl with a revealing glance before covering it with an insincere smile.

"As soon as your cousin arrives and you are issued identification, you may exit."

"I'll just wait here," Sarah says, pointing to the bench.

The woman nods once and begins punching the keys on a typewriter hidden from view. After four hours waiting, she moves into the resting room where a woman not much older than herself sleeps with a baby snuggling against her chest. She might know. Sarah taps her, asking how long she has been there. The woman's heavy eyesopen. She tuts, says some angry words in what Sarah suspects is Chinese and shuts her eyes once more. On a stool sit three homemaker magazines and a single paperback titled The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer with the back cover torn off. She is not that desperate for entertainment yet, but after staring at the blank walls, she picks up the book and skims the pages, reading words that flit about in her mind as other thoughts whirl, grabbing her attention. Staying with her cousin will solve her current predicament, giving her time to decide what to do and a place to remain safe in an otherwise unknown city.

A rustling from the woman gets her attention. The baby grunts like a sleeping pig and soon it is suckling. Sarah remembers a similar noise from when her mother fed her baby brother. Her father, when he was joyful with drink, told her stories that redeemed his brusque, sober qualities. The Chinese baby, she thinks, looks like Issun Boshi. She remembers the story, her father's voice relaying it over her own.

"Mukashi, mukashi," he said, "there was a sweet old couple. Childless, but wanting one very much, they went to a shrine and prayed, 'Please, please let us have a child, no matter how small.' Soon, a son was born to them. But the child was so small-no larger than a man's fingertip. So, the couple raised the child, and he became a bright young boy but did not grow any taller than when he was born. That is why he was called Issun-boshi. One day, he told his parents that he wanted to have an adventure in the city. Trusting him, they sent him off with a sword made of a sewing needle, a sheath made of straw, and a boat made from a rice bowl with a chopstick for an oar. He walked along until he came upon a river. There he put his rice bowl in the water and paddled with the chopstick for days until at last he reached the town. Along the way, two ogres suddenly jumped out onto the road and blocked his path." Here, her father would stop to make a monstrous growl to mimic the ogres. "He took out his needle-sword and came upon their attackers. But then suddenly one of the ogres swallowed him up in one gulp. He stabbed the insides of its stomach and the ogre was so overcome with pain that it threw Issun-boshi up. Free, he jumped up on the other ogre's eyebrow and stabbed its eye. Defeated, the ogres fled away, crying."

Sarah wakes to the screeching babbles of the child and a pulsing headache with her flat shoes still firmly on her feet. The Chinese mother stands, holding her son's hands as she steadies his balance while teaching him to walk. He lifts a foot, wobbling on his other leg, puts it clumsily in front of him before setting it down. They continue walking in circles around the room. Clicking heels signal the receptionist's arrival. She appears by the door, careful not to touch so much as the framework. Seeing her, the woman perks up, eyes hopeful.

"Ms. Igarashi," she says to which the woman turns back to her child, burying disappointment, "your cousin is here."

Eager to leave the room, Sarah pops up and quickly follows.

Waiting outside to greet her is Penelope.