edited by Jason Rennie
(Superversive Press, January 2016, tpb)
“Safe Space Suit” by Nick Cole
“Auto America” by E. J. Shumak
“A Place for Everyone” by Ray Blank
“The Code” by Matthew Ward
“The Secret History of the World Gone By” by Joshua M. Young
“The Social Construct” by David Hallquist
“At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman
“If You Were a Hamburger, My Love” by Ray Blank
“Imagine” by Pierce Oka
“Graduation Day” by Chrome Oxide
“Hymns of the Mothers” by Brad R. Torgersen
“By His Cockle Hat and Staff” by John C. Wright
“World Ablaze” by Jane Lebak
“Amazon Gambit” by Vox Day
“Elegy for the Locust” by Brian Niemeier
“Test of the Prophet” by L. Jagi Lamplighter
“Flight to Egypt” by Sarah A. Hoyt
Reviewed by Robert L Turner III
Nick Cole starts the anthology off with “Safe Space Suit” in which the first manned trip to Mars encounters some difficulties due to inexperienced flight officers and theoreticians. The cause of the catastrophe is prioritizing “diversity” over competence. Very quickly things go Planet of the Apes. The story is a clear allegory of the writer’s view of contemporary SF with numerous name drops to make the point. The problem is that the author sacrifices good writing in favor of political (in the broad sense) commentary and the story suffers as a result. If you agree with the author, it is a mildly amusing piece, and if you don’t, there is nothing else there to appreciate.
“Auto America” by E. J. Shumak is a clever short piece that tells of an attempt to get out of a ticket that runs afoul of speech codes. It is a quick, clever story although the ending is somewhat disappointing.
In “A Place for Everyone” Umberto Huffer, a history professor, tries to change his allocation to Buenos Aires in an attempt to stay together with his wife. Since he lives in a world where AIs distribute people based on 4149 factors to achieve the best possible homogeneity, he must convince the DMV-like bureaucrats that his desire is acceptable. In this story Ray Blank takes a realistic trend and extends it as far as it will stretch. The final twist is very O. Henry influenced and works well. The story involves well drawn characters whose motivations are believable and sympathetic; which makes it an enjoyable read.
“The Code” is styled in a similar vein to the previous story. Matthew Ward takes a current trend, in this case affirmative consent, and plays with the consequences. Narrated in the first person, we see a first date and the way in which culture, biology and law interact. Again the story is well constructed and is believable within the author’s world.
“The Secret History of the World Gone By” by Joshua M. Young is written in the broad brush style in the Robert E. Howard tradition. In it, a barbarian named Anders (“different” in Dutch) arrives at Penitent city in search of the lost history of mankind. There he encounters Hayden, a young woman who explains the city’s custom of circumlocution, gender erasure and offense avoidance. Together they learn how humanity lost its dominance. The story is a classical outsider searches for lost truth story with a twist that is predictable. However, the writing is interesting and the story well composed.
In “The Social Construct” David Hallquist extrapolates on the trend of separating gender and biological sex and then inverts the argument. A couple decides that they wish their two year old boy, chosen through advanced genetic sampling and delivered through artificial wombs, to be a girl, since “Daughters were trending.” The results are both predictable and heartbreaking. While a little heavy handed, this story is an excellent example of SF’s ability to hold a mirror to society by taking a theme and exaggerating for effect.
“At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman is thematically linked to the previous story. In this world children are not considered “alive” until 13 and may be legally disposed of at any point before then. The unnamed 12 year old pre-child falls out of a tree and breaks his arm. This leads to the question of whether “Mother” will keep him or not. They story is interesting and well written, with the parallels to abortion clear.
“If You Were a Hamburger, My Love” by Ray Blank is a slapdash parody of the Nebula Award winning “If you Were a Dinosaur my Love.” It is not worth the time to read. You need to have read the original to understand the parody and even then the material is very thin.
Pierce Oka sets “Imagine” in a dystopian future in which a rookie enforcer is set to learn the ropes from a more experienced operative. When they are faced with a priest trying to feed a man in the stocks, they must act. Although the format is worn, the world building is interesting, especially how the author ties the world together through the use of John Lenin’s “Imagine.” While not particularly noteworthy, the story is decent.
“Graduation Day” by Chrome Oxide is another piece set in a dystopian future. More of a parody than the previous entry, “Graduation Day” tells the story of a proud father who hacks into a college’s system to view his daughter’s graduation. The story is tongue in cheek, but predictable and trite.
Brad R. Torgersen presents a futuristic city occupied only by women in “Hymns of the Mothers.” In it, Dinah, a young woman, starts asking inappropriate questions and learns that her perfect world is more complex than she had imagined. Torgersen creates an interesting and layered world where the motivations of the various characters are realistic and plausible. The ending of cautious optimism is typical Torgersen.
“By His Cockle Hat and Staff” by John C. Wright involves a world of multiple realities where one totalitarian world, a blend of Maoist China and Political Correctness taken to an extreme, seeks to use the ability to transfer minds between worlds to spread it’s ideals. Workmans-Paradise, one of the few people able to travel between worlds learns that his love, Crusading-for-Womans-Equality, is scheduled to be put to death since she hasn’t returned from her assigned world. Taking a chance, he jumps to the world where he thinks she is and tries to find her. The first 2/3rds of the story is well structured and interesting, but the final portion of story veers into the silly, with an explanation that doesn’t fit the feel of the rest of the story. Overall, I was disappointed that the conclusion didn’t match the promise of the first portion of the story.
“World Ablaze” by Jane Lebak is set in a post-Christian America where nuns and priests have to hide themselves. The story develops two parallel threads. The first is a nun’s willingness to help others, even at the risk of her own life. The second includes an ingenious conceit in which the personalities of various saints and beatas can be imprinted on willing subjects. The story is clever and well written with a satisfying conclusion.
In “Amazon Gambit” a mercenary officer is given command of a battalion of female soldiers and is assigned to capture a city on a low technology world. Since the mercenaries are only permitted to use the same level of technology as the natives, he must devise a strategy that does not entail placing the women in hand to hand combat using only swords and axes. In the piece, Vox Day creates a plausible scenario and a realistic outcome when you consider that the honey trap has a long history in both war and espionage.
“Elegy for the Locust by Brian Niemeier is a very engaging piece that has a number of elements reminiscent of some of the experimental work of the 60s, especially that of Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl.” In it, a scholar, jealous of his employer, is led to a secret room where he is magically able to transform himself into his patron. The world building of the story hints at a complex and fascinating world while the pacing is well tuned to the mythic and dreamlike theme and text. This feels like an excellent throwback to classic stories which question the very basis of self.
“Test of the Prophet” by L. Jagi Lamplighter is an intriguing story which combines contemporary political events with an interesting take on religion and faith. In it, Shazia, a naturalized U.S. citizen and veteran of Pakistani descent, returns to Peshawar in search of her favorite cousin who has dropped out of sight. When she learns that he has been flirting with extremism, she feels compelled to find and rescue him. When she does find him, she discovers that there is more going on than she thought. The story blends realistic portrayals of location and setting with fantastic religious/mythological elements. The title focuses on the key narrative conceit that each prophet who hears the word of God must pass a test or become a failed prophet. Although there are a couple of rough edges and missteps in the foreshadowing and other places, the inventiveness and clever mixing of elements makes this a strong piece.
“Flight to Egypt” is the final story in the anthology and one of the strongest. Sarah A. Hoyt sets her tale in a future where Earth is decaying but other cultures in the solar system are thriving. When Ingrid, daughter of a Scandinavian-founded colony falls in love with an African-American sculptor, she decides to stay on Earth with him. However, once she becomes pregnant she is forced into hiding to protect her unborn child. Hoyt does a good job of the technical aspect of delaying the reveal (which I will not name) until the point of most impact. In so doing she brings up some very pertinent questions about the power of statistical probability and our blindness to the biases that shape how we evaluate and use that information. If that sounds dry, the story itself is just the opposite. It is very human and engaging.
Robert Turner is a professor and long term SF reader.