Category: Fiction

New Isham Cook release: The Kitchens of Canton, a novel

Jeff Malmquist is unaccountably catapulted to the year 2060. He finds himself in New Gary, Indiana, a labor camp of one million Chicagoans, their identities hacked and incriminated as pedophiles through the collusion of a corrupt US Government, the Russian cybermafia, and China. He escapes to Chicago, only to find himself in a full-scale replica of Ancient Rome in China, erected for the wealthy country’s amusement and manned by a million enslaved Italians. As he struggles to orient himself in these synchronized urban labyrinths, he is plunged back to real Ancient Rome, before being flung yet further into the future: It’s 2115 and the Chinese Empire rules the world. The former Western hemisphere is now the American Special Administrative Region, a vast Cantonese-speaking slave colony. Malmquist will soon be shipped to the most opulent city the world has ever known for an unspeakable fate.

A dystopian satire both bleak and funny, The Kitchens of Canton distills the worst of our present and future societies into a strangely seductive maze of a story.

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The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 6: Gwongzau

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Sender, message, signal, receiver: the standard model of communication. Or simply: sender, signal, receiver. There is usually a message, but it’s often hard to distinguish from the signal. Some messages are obvious—the time of day, the price of something. Or the words “I like you”: the message, fondness for someone, seems to be contained in the signal, the words. Or consider the glance of a person who likes you. Again the message is in the signal: the gaze, the eyes. The signal is so instantaneous it’s practically invisible, and what remains is the message. The message is the only thing we notice. Since the signal is so insignificant, we might be tempted to revise the model to: sender, message, receiver.

The problem is, without a signal, there is no communication; while on the other hand, a great deal of signaling—communicating —goes on without a message. The message is not necessarily crucial, or even important. Indeed, you can’t understand the nature of communication until you realize the message is not important. If the “message” could be defined as a specific packet of information, what we discover is that people withhold information more often than they give it. And they may wish to communicate this very fact. There may be signals to this effect: the empty message, the anti-message. There may be signals with no message. There may be contradictory messages. The message is redundant. It is just a distraction, an interpretation, something you think you understand. What stands in its place is more basic: mutual acknowledgment and reassurance.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 5: Xinluoma

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“Tirare verso l’alto di più. Arricciare le dita. Più veloce. Non così in fretta. Più ritmicamente,” said the boy.

“I’m trying.”

“Ritmicamente. Rapidamente.”

“My hand’s getting tired. I can’t do this forever.”

“Buxing! Lidao yao junyun wenjian,” said the woman.

Malmquist withdrew his hand and shook it. “Please, I have to stop for a minute. My hand is too tired. I’ve never done this before.”

“Nushi, ta buhui shuo hanyu,” the slave boy told the Chinese lady on the massage table.

“Ta butai wen. Ni gaosu ta yao wenxie.”

“Wo zhidao. Keshi ta ye buhui shuo yidaliyu.”

“Ni weishenme buhui shuo yidaliyu?” she yelled at Malmquist. “Ni bushi nuli ma?”

“I’m telling you I don’t understand.”

“Weishenme ta buhui shuo yidaliyu? Ta naozi shi bushi you wenti? Ta jingshen zhengchang ma?”

“Torna al lavoro!”

Malmquist beaked his hand and with a sigh reinserted four fingers into the woman’s vagina.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 4: Chicago

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“There we go.”

“Hi, honey.”

“He’s still spacing.”

“Where am I?”

“You had a little knock on the head, buddy.”

“Jesus, a hospital?”

“It’s a whole lot better than a morgue. How many fingers?”

“Four.”

“Excellent.”

“Now how many?”

“One.”

“Abby, would you kindly enter Einstein?”

“I was really hoping—”

“I know what time it is. We’re spread thin tonight. What’s your name?”

“Jeff Malmquist. Would you please tell me where I am and what I am doing here?”

“You banged your head.”

“On what?”

“A bullet.”

“I got shot?”

“You’re lucky.”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 3: Zigaago

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The officer and her assistant regarded Malmquist with placid expressions. “Keoi zoekdou houci go gudoijan,” said the former.

“Bei ngodei gimcaa jathaa keoi.”

“Oh boy, here we go again.”

They were flinging their hands, telling him to do something.

“What?”

The assistant went up to him, blew into his ear and whispered, “Zoeng neidi saam ceoiloklei.”

“I don’t understand.”

They gestured at his clothes. He understood and removed them.

The assistant produced an exotic-looking spoon with a digital display on the handle, latex gloves and a tube of clear jelly. She inserted two lubricated fingers into his rectum, while stimulating him with her other hand. Instantly he was erect and non-orgasmic semen rolled out. She caught some on the spoon, smelled it and noted the reading, whose results she relayed to the boss. “Keoidi yesik nghou honzing. Zoeng tong tung minfan taityun. Ngo go tin aa! Keoi houci zungduklei. Ni hinsi jau houdo jauduk gaa matzi.”

“Jau gei sansin gwanjitlaat?”

“Keoi muijat jikzing.”

Again they asked him, “Nei hai bindou loigot?”

“I’m sorry but I have no idea who you are, what you’re talking about, or where I am.”

They seemed just as perplexed by him as he was of them.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 2: Xinluoma

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Malmquist lifted his head off the floor in a daze as he regained consciousness. “Where am I?”

“E tu chi sei?” a man whispered to him in the darkness.

“Who are you?”

“Sei lo schiavo nuovo?”

“What language are you speaking?”

“Che lingua stai parlando?”

“Do you speak English?”

“Inglese? No, non parlo Inglese.”

“Where am I? Chicago? What happened?”

“Di dove sei? Non sapevo che voleva uno schiavo nuovo.”

“I don’t understand you. Are you Italian?”

“Shsh. Fa silenzio.”

“L’eunuco ha preso uno della sua eta’,” murmured another, with a laugh.

They lit an oil lamp, and the room revealed a group of startled young men wearing simple tunics, lying on thin pallets. “Di dove sei?”

“Would you please tell me what the hell is going on? I was just in Gary, Indiana, in the future. Escaping from Gary. And then I must have blacked out. Am I shot?”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 1: New Gary, IN

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There was commotion inside a clothing shop on Broadway. A woman could be heard shouting and a man rushed out. He stopped in his tracks and looked around in confusion. “Where the hell am I?—Excuse me, can you tell me what city we’re in?” he asked a pedestrian.

“I beg your pardon?”

“What city is this?”

“You don’t know?”

“Those apartment blocks weren’t there a few minutes ago.”

The passerby rolled his eyes and moved on. “Try that bar over there,” he said with a backward glance at the strange man. “Or you just come from there?”

The man crossed the street. The bar had an industrial door and a small window framing the word “Bar” in cursive neon. He entered the dark interior and sat down at the counter. The bartender, a rugged man in a cowboy outfit, swiveled his face past the stranger and reversed direction to meet him in the eye. “What’ll you have, buddy?”