"The Gallows on the Garden Path" by Bret Tallman
"One to Spare" by Jason Andrew
"Running Down on a Thousand" by Rebecca S. W. Bates
"A Torturous Wrong Turn" by J Alan Erwine
"Cell" by Lavie Tidhar
"Mina's Kiss" by Bruce Horner
"Face Dances" by Rebecca M. Senese
Future Syndicate is a collection of eight stories about “what the future of crime might be,” edited by J Alan Erwine.
Opening the anthology is “An Ingenious Adventure” by Jason Sizemore. Garwin Hayes is a “flash genius,” someone with an eidetic memory, kind of like a human USB drive, that resets from time to time. He is not, however, particularly bright.
It is this eidetic memory that gets Garwin in trouble. His friends drag him to a parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of Chez Cola where a disgruntled employee shows up to destroy the secret recipe to the famed cola. Through a lack of common sense, Garwin winds up reading the secret recipe of a company famed for the use of brutal tactics to suppress that very recipe. Hijinks ensue as Garwin and his friends try to escape the thugs from Chez. “An Ingenious Adventure” is a fun romp. Sizemore writes with assurance while keeping the story light and entertaining.
Bret Tallman’s “The Gallows on the Garden Path” is a tale of revenge. The Crays are a family of brutal criminals. With Wallace “Pants” Zybisco, they pull a heist to punish a man who had the Cray’s surrogate father killed. But Wallace speeds off with the object of the heist, trading it to a powerful syndicate to gain the freedom of his girlfriend. The Crays subsequently turn their attention to Wallace, intent upon revenge for this betrayal.
“The Gallows on the Garden Path” had possibilities but lost focus when it changed point of view characters midstream, which this reader found jarring for such a short piece. It is also a story entirely concentrated on the characters. The world around them is a convenient backdrop, but it could have been set in the past, the future, or the present.
“One to Spare” by Jason Andrew is another story of possibilities. Race is a motorcycle courier in the Emerald Metroplex approached for a particularly lucrative, but illegal, job and forced by circumstances to take it. What follows is a fairly mundane motorcycle chase as Race seeks to deliver her package. What piques one's interest in this story are the background elements: Race’s father and his fate, Race’s client and how he came to his end, Race’s daughter. all dropped in as background, but more intriguing than the actual story. It would've been great to see this background world expanded upon. “One to Spare” is okay, but amounts mostly to a motorcycle chase through crowded streets—something more interesting as a movie than a short story.
Rebecca S. W. Bates’s “Running Down on a Thousand” is also about a courier. The narrator is a “prophecy courier,” a time traveler who delivers hallucinogenic payloads keyed to provide the receiver with a message. Our protagonist makes a jump for one of her fellows, who requires extra downtime, but it doesn’t go as expected, and she finds herself confronted with a woman who is both from a lower tech and is rather more aggressive than the courier is able to handle.
“Running Down on a Thousand” can be taken as both a serious and comic work. The confrontation between the advanced but passive courier and her lower tech captor is a long explored topic. The keys are the realizations the courier experiences in this uncontrolled environment.
Hentor Briggs is yet another kind of courier in J Alan Erwine’s “A Torturous Wrong Turn,” an unlucky smuggler. He’s caught, and the government that caught him really wants his information. One of the shortest stories in Future Syndicate, it’s a straightforward tale of a man caught by a government that will stop at nothing to learn what he knows. In essence, it questions what the greater crime is: smuggling or the lengths the regime will go to in the name of the law.
“Cell” by Lavie Tidhar returns to a humorous tone. Monk is an inhabitant of the self-aware Cell, a roving prison cell that takes him throughout the system searching for relics and signs of an ancient civilization. When Monk finds just such a relic, we discover that Cell has dreams too.
Tidhar’s story is also one of the shorter stories in this anthology, but it is handled with aplomb. It’s fun and the ending is funny. “Cell” is a bit of mind candy, but it’s perfectly fine and enjoyable as such.
Bruce Horner’s “Mina’s Kiss” follows Kovit Correto, a professional assassin who uses a destructive form of nanotechnology to read his targets memories as he kills them. His latest target is the possibly corrupt president of the world government. An orphan, Kovit goes through life moving from one surrogate father to another, unable to objectively judge the desires and advice of these surrogates. He uses the technology of one of them to develop his tool of assassination—a rifle that fires a nanotech probe that destructively combs through the targets memories and transmits them to Kovit himself.
“Mina’s Kiss” has a logically inevitable ending, though it is also somewhat predictable. Still, the technology is interesting and the story has high points. Kovit is an interesting character and his trip is intriguing.
In the final story, “Face Dances” by Rebecca M. Senese, Nick is a burglar with a unique skill: he can change faces through effort of will. Eventually, a burglar with that sort of reputation will get offered a job he can’t turn down. Nick’s can’t-turn-down job is stealing a new chip design from a reclusive, paranoid chip designer. And his employers hire a partner for him, a woman who is a master of disguise, just as Nick is reputed to be. As they work together, Nick, of course, figures out that Casey shares his exceptional gift, and he has trepidations about working with her. He's a loner who sees a chance at something more. Inevitably, there's always something to be said about trusting one’s instincts.
“Face Dances” is a well written story and Senese is good at characterization. The only weakness here is in the predictability of the ending.
Publisher: Nomadic Delirium Press (Jan. 2007)
Paperback: 132 pages
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