Reviews

Short Story Review: MEAT AND SALT AND SPARKS, by Rich Larson

 

click on the LINK to read the story online

 

This is not my first story by Rich Larson (whose novel Annex was also one of my recent happy discoveries), but as I’ve now come to expect from this writer it’s a very intriguing one: in this specific case we are shown a near-future in which an augmented chimpanzee works as a police detective alongside his human partner, and they are faced with a strange murder.  A man has been shot on the subway by a woman who, as it becomes clear in the course of the investigation, was acting as an “echo”, someone who obeys the commands of a client telling them what to do and say – these clients live vicariously through their echoes, filtering those experiences through the hosts, but until the murder on the subway nothing so excessive was ever recorded.

As interesting as this angle is, especially when considering the attitude of some of these “echoes”, who seem to enjoy – crave – the loss of their individuality to the point that they are driven to extreme acts, like the woman on the subway, the main focus of the story is on Cu, the enhanced chimp and her memories of an earlier life in the lab where her cognitive abilities were augmented, often at the cost of suffering and what could easily be termed as torture.   Cu, after the trial in which she was granted independent status and monetary reparations, is now her own person with a rewarding job, but she is also quite alone, the only one of her kind and as such the object of curiosity. Or worse.

Cu’s condition is a poignant one, always feeling like a stranger in a strange land no matter how she tries to blend into human society, always the object of a form of curiosity that never takes into account the possibility of her having feelings that can be hurt – there is a sentence about people on the street staring at her or taking pictures that stresses the total lack of respect she has to deal with day after day.  And that plays perfectly in the development of the investigation and what Cu discovers as she works to solve the murder case.

A thought-provoking story, from an author worth of keeping on one’s radar, indeed.

 

My Rating:

Advertisements
Reviews

Short Story Review: LOSS OF SIGNAL, by S.B. Divya

 

Click on the LINK to read the story online

 

Young Toby’s body started failing him when he was in his early teens: failing synapses and decaying muscles, including the most important one in the human body – the heart – were going to shut down one by one, leading to the inevitability of death.  That is, until he was given the chance to avoid such a terrible fate by melding his brain with a NASA probe headed for the Moon – and Toby, whose life had been a journey of impossible dreams, took that chance and left his body behind to travel toward the Moon and fulfill some of those dreams, if not all.

But childhood fantasies and reality are two very different things, and once he finds himself alone in the vastness of space, Toby is assailed by fears and plagued by nightmarish sensations, including feelings of extreme cold that are impossible in his present condition – but the human mind can still find ways to torture itself, even in the absence of a body.

This is a tale of courage, the courage to move beyond one’s limitations and to cross any boundary: the description of Toby’s frame of mind as he finds himself utterly alone in the thirty minutes of signal loss that will make or break the mission is one of the most poignant and heartbreaking tales I ever read, and it made me feel for this fictional young man in a way I rarely experienced.

It will take you only a short time to read this story, but it will be time well spent – highly recommended.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: A GREEN MOON PROBLEM, by Jane Lindskold

 

click on the LINK to read the story online

 

This intriguing tale is one of the perfect examples about being very careful when you define what you want, because even the more meticulous wording can hide a trap…

Tatter D’MaLeon is something of a legendary figure on Cat Station, a human deep-space outpost, and there are many stories going around about her, but they all agree on a few details: no one ever saw her face, hidden behind an inscrutable mask on which are also painted the three charms she always wears –  a thin crescent moon, adorned with weird green gems, an eight-pointed star that fans out around a center shaped like a human eye, and a compass rose, silver upon gold, but lacking a needle. Legends say that she is able to solve any problem presented to her, should she decide to make it her own and if the petitioner is able to pay her price.

Jurgen Haines is a merchant engineer and a newcomer to the station, and as it often happens with recent arrivals, he soon makes the acquaintance of the outpost’s folklore – hence the information about Tatter D’MaLeon, which he at first labels as a curiosity or an attempt to make fun of the rookie, or both.  That is, until he falls hard for a woman, Rita Lathrop, a geologist with a fondness for research into the existence of alien forms of life: even once they start a relationship, Rita pours most of her energies into her pursuit, and that’s not enough for Jurgen, who wants more and above all wants to be at the center of Rita’s focus, and not on the sidelines.

So, when a chance encounter in a deserted corridor brings him unexpectedly face to face with Tatter, Jurgen takes his courage in both hands and asks her for a solution to his problem, one that will ensure that he and Rita will be “Together. Inseparable”.  And Tatter D’MaLeon indeed delivers on her promise, but with an unpredictable twist in the end: it’s true that no matter how careful the phrasing for our wishes, the “genie” granting them is always able to find some mischievous loophole…

My Rating:

 

Reviews

Short Story Review: UNDER THE SEA OF STARS, by Seanan Mcguire

 

click on the LINK to read the story online

 

Finding a story by Seanan McGuire is always a treat, particularly because I never know, going in, what I will find, although I’m also aware at the same time that it will be an intriguing journey – and this was no exception.

The tale is told in the form of a diary from Amelia Whitmore, who in the latter part of the 19th Century mounts an expedition to explore the depths of the Bolton Strid, a body of water wreathed in mystery, a deceptively lovely place with hidden depths and murderous currents that never gave back the bodies of the unfortunates that dived in it.  Long ago Amelia’s grandfather Carlton found a strange woman on the banks of the Strid, with pale, glittering skin and no knowledge of the world, and named her Molly; after her death, he vowed to look for her family to tell them of what had happened, but was unable to, and now Amelia wants to fulfill that promise, and explore the mysteries of the Strid. What Amelia will find is beyond her wildest thoughts, and filled with terrible discoveries…

The tone of this story is an intriguing one because it uses a language and expressive mode that’s typical of the period in which the tale is set, something that reminded me of the sense of wonder of Jules Verne and the terror of the unknown from Lovecraft’s works: the latter is particularly true at the closing part of the story, when the ultimate truth hits like a scorpion’s sting.  Which is a typical Seanan McGuire’s ending…

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: KALEIDOSCOPE, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

 

 

Click on the LINK to read the story online

 

Every time I read something written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, be it a full novel or a shorter work, I am impressed by her skills as an author and even more by the range of narrative themes she employs: no two works have been the same so far, and this short story is no exception.

Kaleidoscope is a weird story – and I mean weird in the most complimentary sense, of course – one that clearly deals with the concept of parallel universes, or alternate realities, but does so in a way I never encountered before, through short sentences depicting the various incarnations of the same two people, through time and the different circumstances that keep bringing them together, or at least meeting fleetingly.

What makes this story even more exceptional is its brevity that nonetheless manages to convey so many layers, so many emotions – all of them either skirting or falling straight into the painful category, not unlike a sudden knife slash. And she makes that pain appear intriguing, which is something I can’t help marveling at.

If you have never read anything by this author, do yourself a favor and read this story, and if you enjoy Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing but don’t care much about shorter works, do yourself a favor and read this one. You will not regret it.

 

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: BLACK FRIDAY, by Alex Irvine

 

(click on the LINK to read the story online)

 

Try to imagine the combination of the Black Friday madness in a shopping mall with the Hunger Games and you might get an idea of what this short, brutal story is about.  In a twisted, bloody version of Thanksgiving celebration, family groups engage in battle inside a shopping mall to acquire desired goods and eventually the prizes that have been hidden like Easter eggs in various locations.

The story follows the Anderson family – calling themselves The Mugs – composed by father Caleb and three teenage children, respectively fifteen, fourteen and twelve years old, as they furtively enter the Greenleaf mall armed to the teeth, ready to claim their goals. It becomes immediately clear that this kind of event is followed by television networks all over the country, as drones follow the progress of the groups and newscasters comment with various degrees of excitement as they would for a sports match – with the hideous difference that in this case the match involves the wounding or killing of one’s opponents. That’s where the comparison with the Hunger Games comes to the fore in all its chilling evidence, especially when it illustrates the backing and publicity-seeking of many sponsors…

The competition is ruthless and savage, and the mention of rules to be followed seems more like lip service to a hazy idea of fairness than anything else: these people are there to get what they want and to do so are prepared to roll over the opposition with any means at their disposal, while no one seems interested in forcing adherence to those rules. At some point we learn that

 

The more predatory teams would be hunting for the wounded, aiming to finish them off under the pretext of checking items off their lists. This is known as vulturing.

 

showing that the actual goal is not so much the acquisition of a particular object but rather the vicious joy of destroying other lives: that young people, children, are involved in this, trained from an early age to kill without the slightest qualm, and to do it efficiently, makes this story all the more petrifying, especially at the unexpected turn of events in the end.

This is not an easy read, granted, but I wonder if it might not prove helpful in giving some much-needed context – and a chance for reflection – in the running debate about guns…

 

My Rating:

Reviews

Short Story Review: THE NEAREST, by Greg Egan

 

THE NEAREST

(click on the link to read the story online)

 

This is one of the most fascinating short stories that I can recall reading, and one that also represents a reviewing challenge, since I can’t talk about it in depth without fully revealing the intriguing core concept.  But I will try anyway…

Kate is a police detective and a new mother: she’s been back at work for two weeks and is still trying to settle again into the old routine when she receives a call about what looks like a murder/suicide case, in which a father and two daughters have been stabbed to death and the mother is missing. In the course of the investigation Kate discovers that the mother left the house with the family car, which she later abandoned, and from the retrieved GPS information she seems to have been moving erratically around the city; a few images from surveillance cameras reveal further indications of the woman’s weird behavior after the horrible murders perpetrated in the house.

Returning home after her busy day in search of clues for the woman’s whereabouts, Kate finds some comfort in the warmth and closeness of her small family, but it’s a very brief respite because when she wakes up the next morning she finds herself plunged straight into a nightmare, one where reality seems to have been changed overnight, with no logical explanations whatsoever.

Kate’s journey from that moment on is one that’s carried out on the razor-thin border between sanity and madness, because she – and with her the readers – is not certain whether what looks like madness is in her mind or in the behavior of the people surrounding her. And even once the mystery is solved – if it really is – the doubt remains, which is the most spellbinding element of the story.

Highly recommended.

 

My Rating: