June 15, 2016
A Review by Chris Fried
How do we as individuals and as a culture become who we are? Are we born this way or are we shaped by our lives and by our experiences? Whatever the case, our development leads us to transform into the ultimate iteration of who we are at this moment in time. What inspires us? What guides us? What happens if something goes sideways during our growth? This anthology showcases a wide variety of short stories, twenty-two of them, all interesting, mesmerizing and intriguingly odd. They form a nice mix of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism and speculative fiction, creating imaginative interpretations of nature vs. nurture as well as establishing atypical worlds in the process. Start exploring them with:
Rhoads Brazos – The Hanging Gardens of Brooklyn – Kizzie is a young girl who witnesses a Pakistani man selling unusual foods on the street. Bullied by her brother and his friends, she discovers what he’s hiding behind the locked gates of what’s supposedly a vacant lot. A wondrous tale about the power of friendship & the appreciation of differences between ages and cultures.
Holly Heisey – Aplanetary – Gemima and Anone are lovers on an adventure to be reborn in the bodies, lives and culture of an alien species to see what happens. But what do they learn about each other when they do and how does it affect their concept of family? A poignant, passionate and moving tale of gender identity, true love and finding out what it means to just be yourself.
Sacha Hope – Glass Heart – In England, 1850, Wolt is a scientist whose wife is slowly dying of cancer. Torn between spending their final days together and researching a way to keep her alive at any cost, what is he willing to pay to do so? A heart-stirring tale of love and science, leading to an unexpected and appropriate ending.
Deanne Charlton – Cultural Gleanings – When Carolynn wakes up and starts speaking Danish for no known reason, she and her husband Doug wonder what happened to her and try to find the cause of it. But will they find the cure or will she be like this forever? A charming, upbeat and whimsical story about love and the joys of embracing new experiences in life.
J.D. Harpley – Fringling – Baylin is a slave on an alien world with his younger sister Corina when all of a sudden, he’s struck with amazing powers and the ability to fight back! What will he do with this all-encompassing power and why does he even have it? The mystery unravels in this taut tale about how power can corrupt if it’s not used responsibly and the reality-altering consequences of such a gift.
E.L. Johnson – Poseidon’s Tears – A girl goes about her routine when a series of devastating tsunamis destroys the island of Atlantis! Why is this happening and who is wreaking this upon them? We’re immersed in the story as if we were there ourselves being bludgeoned by the waves, struggling to stay alive. The intriguing answers behind these events made perfect sense, explaining this thrilling story in a satisfying way.
Michele Tracy Berger – The Curl of Emma Jean – Jessa and Chelsea are two adults, each sister the opposite of the other, wrangling over their late father’s inheritance. Jessa is the reckless one with a young child, the father’s identity a secret. But when Jessa must do the unthinkable to get her money, what decision will she make? A dark and mesmerizing story about two different sisters and their different points of view on what it takes to get on the right path in life.
Samuel Peralta – The Price – Someone seeking World War II memorabilia walks into a shop. The store’s owner holds up one particular object and with the customer, the reader learns the disturbing history of this item and its dark origins. A sinister and horrifying tale about the depravity of unconscionable men, with compelling, powerful and gut-wrenching storytelling.
Jo West – Growing Simon – What does a lonely woman do when all of her so-called friends are getting pregnant and she cannot? Why, she decides to find some companionship of her own, of course! This disturbing story effectively demonstrates the desperate lengths someone will go to get what she wants, no matter how macabre it is.
Jonathan Cromack – The Terrible Discovery of Professor Charles Cooper – In the late 1800’s, Charles is under orders to relax from his job, deciding to go on a walkabout in the deep woods. This leads to a startling discovery of a house hidden in the hills, filled with distressing and appalling evidence of something abhorrent and unethical. An amiable tale that turns truly scary, ultimately about how judging a situation by its initial appearance can lead to a hidden and deeper understanding of something more.
D.L. Orton – The Last Star – Two extremely long-lived beings who’ve witnessed the birth of the universe now get a chance to see its eventual death, their companionship providing the prism to process what they’re now looking at. A delightful tale of a loving relationship of those who’ve seen it all, now wondering what happens next in their last great adventure together.
P.K. Tyler – My Darlings – Adaline is a secretary in a law firm,
harboring a secret about something going on inside her, needing some serious nourishment to help it grow. What is it and what does it need to feed? This enveloping story immerses you deep into Adaline’s moment-to-moment struggles, reveling in its meticulous detail that appeals to the five senses and caused some squirms of discomfort in the process.
Nillu Nasser Stelter – The Tombstone Man and the Coming of the Tigress – Jermaine is motivated by his dark past to work for a strange master, meeting Lana to steal something from her. But since she is deteriorating physically, what could he want and why? A dynamic story about two people trying to overcome something in an attempt to liberate themselves from their personal shackles.
Erica Ruhe – In The Periphery – Jayati is a clone, on a long-range mission through space in 2332. When she receives strange visions from her progenitor many generations removed, it puts her on a path to answers but will she like what she finds? Engrossing and layered, this story makes you question Jayati’s sanity and what the problem really is.
Laxmi Hariharan – Exhale: An Ascendants Story – When Sofia’s grandmother reveals her history to Fia, Fia is shocked to learn she has a destiny unlike any she had ever considered for herself. But will she accept what fate has come to show her or will she find her own path? A stunning and vigorous story about denial and whether you can escape what fate has already defined for you.
Brent Meske – interdimensional investigation initiative (iii) ifrit – When Dr. Inman is obsessed with a dimensional portal, he lets a god-like being onto Earth’s plane of existence, seeking something from her? A comedic and engaging story filled with much witty wordplay. The storytelling has both style and substance, surprising the reader with its swift speed and sudden swerves, rapidly verging on ridiculous but righting itself and remaining on track all the way through to its compelling conclusion.
Robert Allen Lupton – Swim with the Beavers – When a young park ranger is introduced to his new responsibilities at an isolated cabin, he learns the stories of rangers before him who held this position. One tale about a boy raised by beavers is especially intriguing but is it a tall tale or a true one? This captivating and offbeat story of dedication to others, no matter how different they are, is especially poignant.
Daniel Arthur Smith – The Least Child – An author experiencing writer’s block receives inspiration from an unlikely source. This source, a being inside of a plant pod, tells a wild and imaginative tale but is it all real or a product of his mind starving for a creative spark? A whimsical and delightful tale that sweeps the reader off of their feet to a magical land with its enthralling and rapturous storytelling, from both the author and the child-like creature.
Zig Zag Claybourne – Consciousness – A Jackalope and a very mouthy Buddha are friends, traveling through time and enjoying their tea wherever they are. The Buddha causes a lot of fights due to the lack of verbal restraint, but ultimately, what is their purpose in life? Unusually strange and funny at the same time, it embraces its eccentricities with wild abandon, making you want to know more.
Rebecca Poole – Her – A man, like his family generations before him, devotes his every waking moment and his entire life to prepare for Her arrival. Having lost everything and enduring ridicule from his entire village on a daily basis, will his faith be rewarded? A sad tale of devotion and dedication that tells a satisfying and startling story.
Shebat Legion – The Apple – In a post-apocalyptic future with no technology and a dearth of knowledge, Jennysally and Tommybobby try to figure out why their pregnancies seem to end in disaster. Can their village help them find a solution together? It’s just the right mix of melodrama, charm, humor, and regret, their love creating a touching portrait of a couple and how they find hope amidst the devastation.
Melanie Lamaga – Becoming Mage – A former alcoholic is a social outcast at her country club winds up sitting next to her former friends, now enemies. The ensuing internal struggle to maintain decorum becomes more difficult when she sees something curious going on with each of them at their table. What in the world is going on here? An entertaining, highly gratifying and uproariously funny battle that ends with a big smile at its invigorating and liberating conclusion.
All of the stories were highly enjoyable and engaging, though there were a couple of them that were hard to follow or were not very emphatic in making their point. As a result, some of the themes in these stories didn’t come across very clearly or just fell flat for me.
Despite the uncommon interpretations of the origination of individuals, people or a larger culture in these stories, the best part is how creatively these common themes are demonstrated in each of these stories and how they unite us all. No matter how we came to be, we are bound more by what we have in common than by what we don’t. Things like love of all kinds, our family that we’re blessed or cursed with by blood or by choice, how we even define what family means, friendship, faith, struggle, sacrifice, destiny, the capacity for good or for evil, the legacy we leave for our children and much more. All of this binds us together no matter who we are or where we are from. It’s all elegantly illustrated in each of these stories, collected into one wonderful anthology.
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