THE BALLAD OF BILLY BADASS AND THE ROSE OF TURKESTAN
Xlibris Corporation / 252 pages / January 1999
Experience tells. Years of life experience and writing experience must combine to produce a storyteller of the level of William Sanders. You don’t just pop out of the womb with books like this one. And, if you did, it would be both uncomfortable and scary for everyone present. No, Sanders waited a few years to spring the creepy stuff on you, and it’s just gotten creepier for the gestation.
Billy Badwater is a man adrift, no longer the “Badass” of his youth, but unsure exactly who or where he is. Janna Turanova knows exactly who he is, at first glance: the man she’s going to fall in love with. An out-of-work, out-of-the-service Cherokee and a visitor from Kazakhstan with only a few weeks left on her visa. Just sounds like a crisis looking for an unstable area to happen, doesn’t it? You know it is.
Unluckily for the young couple, the desert of Nevada is just the place a disaster is set to blow up in everyone’s faces. Ask the staff and guests of the New Age Enlightenment Center and Guest Ranch. Then again, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Don’t bother asking the law, either. Or the authorities (as if they would help). Billy and Janna and a handful of the desert’s already over-burdened inhabitants are about to come face to face with something no one can explain, much less help them with.
The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan is most likely unlike any novel you’ve come across lately. Forget the fact that it sways between science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This is a story of horrifying truths, deadly lies, and people pushed aside since long before current memory.
And no one could tell it better than Sanders.
It has been a long time since a writer has come along with such a brilliant economy of language. Extraneous words do not exist, much less unnecessary sentences. Even during the moments of exposition and revelation, the scenes are tight and natural and essential. Personalities, the reaction of a character, or the first words out of a character’s mouth are indelibly inscribed with a phrase. Not everyone comes off unscathed in Sanders’ portrayals. Even in this harsh atmosphere, though, the author retains the wry humour of the situation. Such a keen observer of human nature is wise to keep the elements of mesa-dry wit that come along with the best and worst of humankind.
Realistic dialogue, multi-dimensional characters, a driving story line — there is never a moment when the reader feels in anything less than capable and talented hands. Even when things seem to be at their worst, there is a sense of safety, for us if not for the characters. The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan is a powerful tale of things lost and found, of betrayal and allegiance, but not one of easy answers. There is still work to be done, but at least there is hope of committed workers.