Friday, July 23, 2010

Far flung tales - Eight Against Reality

I've decided to do a bit of book reviewing here in addition to Mostly Fiction. First up is a collection edited by Dario Ciriello, Eight Against Reality (Panverse Publishing 2010). I ripped right through this little collection not just because of its size. The complex characters in the majority of the stories face life and death situations with courage and fortitude and their reactions are felt on a visceral level.

Eight Against Reality is a collection of stories set on far flung worlds – either in an imagined future, an imagined past or on a distant planet. In spite of their alien environs, these character-driven stories are very human. Many of these dark tales are down-right disturbing. I do recommend this collection be read, but not at bedtime.

In "The Eminence's Match" by Juliette Wade, we meet the leader of a clan on a distant world who has a very human affliction: obsessive compulsive disorder. He's on a quest for the perfect man-servant, one he can bend to his will, who will not let anything be out of place – ever. Unless he finds the perfect servant, the halls of his palace will be soaked in blood. Almost as disturbing as the Eminence's cruelty is the new candidate's desire to please, and indeed love, this tyrant. The inner dialog and the fixations are portrayed most credibly.

Extreme sports enthusiasts will enjoy Genevieve Williams' "Kip, Running", in which a girl traverses the cityscape of future Seattle virtually invisibly clinging to trains, maglevs, airships, bubblevators (way cool!) and more. They even have flying squirrel-like wings on their camouflaged suits. It's an illegal sport, which raises the adrenalin even further. Kip hopes winning will get the attention of someone she worships from afar. But does Lily even notice?

"The Lonely Heart" by Aliette de Bodard is set in China with mystical beings and terrible curses. What's worse than the local pimp, an infinitely dangerous person who knows where you live, knowing that one of his girls has sought refuge under your roof? The emotions in this piece soar. The author plucks on the strings of pity, empathy, terror, betrayal, forgiveness, determination, loyalty and resignation. It's a symphony of the soul.

"The Flying Squids of Zondor: The Movie Script" by Doug Sharp is something like Monty Python meets Ed Wood. Sex-crazed tyrants are ensnared by a giant alien squid's love potion gas. Really. 'Nough said.

"Spoiling Veena" by Keyan Bowes looks at what might happen when all genetic traits can be programmed and reprogrammed. Letting your daughter change her sex at age twelve isn't nearly the same as letting her dye her hair or get a piercing. And a lot more expensive.

Dogs have become mutant monsters in "Man's Best Enemy", a post-apocalyptic tale by Janice Hardy. The human struggles to fit in, to prove one's skills and to contribute to society are the themes woven into a terrifying fight for survival.

"Love, Blood and Octli" by T.L. Morganfield is by far the most disturbing of all, and yet, the most compelling. Set in ancient Aztec times, this is a story of a girl who is befriended by a god and becomes a priestess. Her brother follows his own avarice and the darkest of the gods. Readers get a glimpse into what might have motivated that ancient race to follow such blood-thirsty gods and live in such fear. Is this what happens when humans become playthings of the gods?

What if you could visit your other selves in other realities? Would dipping into those strange worlds become addicting? Where might it lead if you taught your other selves how to surf realities, too? Find out in "Dancing by Numbers" by Dario Ciriello. Who is the real Lyra? Will she lose herself to these others?

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