Eight Against Reality
Edited by Dario Ciriello
“The Eminence's Match” by Juliette Wade
“Kip, Running” by Genevieve Williams
“The Lonely Heart” by Aliette de Bodard
“The Flying Squids of Zondor” by Doug Sharp
“Spoiling Veena” by Keyan Bowes
“Man's Best Enemy” by Janice Hardy
“Love, Blood, and Octli” by T.L. Morganfield
“Dancing By Numbers” by Dario Ciriello
Reviewed by Joseph Giddings
This is a small volume, not very imposing. Opening the book and flipping to the Introduction, you find that this is a collection of stories from the Written in Blood group. All members of this group are dedicated to making sure their counterparts only produce the best material and critique their friends' works honestly and openly. All are published, having sold short stories or even books.
I eagerly dove into this anthology, hoping to find some great stories within from eight up and coming authors in the genre. Instead, I found the book to be filled with decent stories that were carelessly typeset and strangely put together (“Flying Squids” in particular was hard to follow because it was in script format). Of the eight stories, four are reprints, so I won't spend a lot of time on them, but the other four are original works and deserve a critical look.
We start off with “The Eminence's Match” by Juliette Wade. The Eminence Nekantor is hard on his manservants, none ever serving longer than six months in time. He delights in finding ways to break their calm and serene demeanor. He is a perfectionist, with a heavy dose of obsessive compulsive on top of it all, so finding a manservant that can serve him properly is next to impossible. Or is it? A fresh young Imbari named Xinta seems to be perfect for him, but can he make the cut?
An odd story that takes place in the underground kingdom of Varin (which, oddly enough, I only knew the name of from the book's Introduction. The only mention of Varin in the story I could find was 'Father Varin,' a deific being). I found myself eagerly reading this story to see what would happen when Xinta finally enters the service of Nekantor. The events leading up to his acceptance and eventual hire were engrossing, and I wanted to see how Xinta, as the story title promotes, is the match the tyrannical man needed.
But, we never really got to see that. Sure, we could see that Xinta would be able to adapt to Nekantor's ways, but we didn't get to see anything else. The story ends well, but I would have much preferred to see more of what happens after Xinta becomes the Eminence's manservant.
“Kip, Running” by Genevieve Williams is a reprint, originally appearing in the March 10, 2008 issue of Strange Horizons. This is a story about a girl who runs races across the cityscape not on roads, but on tops of trains and other modes of transportation. A fun story with an anti-climatic ending that leaves you only partly satisfied.
“The Lonely Heart” by Aliette de Bodard, the second reprint in this collection, was first published in the February/March 2009 issue of Black Static. A dark story from the seedy underbelly of China where demons wander the streets seeking living people to guarantee their survival. Well written enough to keep you reading, but with an ending you see coming pretty early on.
“The Flying Squids of Zondor” by Doug Sharp is next. This story isn't written as a short story, but rather as a movie script. Well, more like a thirty minute episode of a television show. At any rate, it felt like Sharp was attempting to pay an homage to the cheesy science fiction shows like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In this, he succeeded. However, there is a large problem with this 'story' that turned me off completely.
It is just, for lack of a better word, gratuitous. The main character, Commandrix Den Dron, vomits uncontrollably and unexplainably in many parts. Sexual references are heaped liberally across the text, and give the story more of a feel that it was written by a fifteen year old boy than an adult man. I did manage to giggle or chuckle at some of the jokes contained therein, but ultimately I found it completely sophomoric and I could never take it seriously, even as a parody. After reading the story, I flipped over to the back of the book to read the blurb about it again, and found it didn't even match the story except in spirit.
Maybe it just wasn't my kind of story. Aside from the formatting (I really don't like screenplays to show up in short story collections) and the sick humor, I think this story would appeal more to men than women, and even some men wouldn't find it all that amusing. I feel “Flying Squids” is the weakest story in the book because of this, since it won't appeal to many of its readers.
“Spoiling Veena” by Keyan Bowes, another reprint, is from Expanded Horizon's November 2008 edition. What if we could choose the sex of our children? And, what if, later on in their life, they weren't happy with your choice? “Spoiling Veena” takes us on that ride, but it never really gets interesting. It merely piques the curiosity, but it does raise questions about genetics, and where we, as a society, might be headed.
“Man's Best Enemy” by Janice Hardy is an engaging story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic Atlanta, Georgia, after a biological plague has swept the planet clean of most of its life. Packs of dogs rule parts of the city, and the remaining humans gather into colonies and hunt for supplies to stay alive. The world Hardy has created is fascinating and well imagined, making for a convincing possible future.
However, I did find the plot to be a bit simple in focus. Hunting party gets jumped by dog. New party goes out to investigate and bites off more than they can chew. After some struggle, they get a leg up on the big bad dog and get away. Meanwhile, they also get revenge for their dead and wounded friends from the first hunting group. We have a happy ending where the guy gets the girl, and the future looks a little brighter.
So, in short, “Man's Best Enemy” is a good story, albeit a little predictable.
“Love, Blood, and Octli” by T.L. Morganfield, the last reprint from this collection, was first featured in Paradox's issue 11, Autumn 2007. We journey back to the Americas, in the time of the Aztec people. The story is fun and keeps you reading, and of all the stories in this anthology, seems to be the most compelling, as we learn about the origin of Quetzalcoatl through the eyes of his first priestess.
“Dancing By Numbers” by Dario Ciriello rounds out this volume of stories. Normally, I would sneer at the editor of a volume including one of their own stories in the mix, but since Ciriello is a member of the Written in Blood group, it would be strange not to include him. He did have someone else edit his story, though.
This story is a look through the eyes of Lyra, a dancer who one day, while performing and looking for her inner calm to help her remain focused, finds she can tap into the existence of her other selves in alternate, parallel universes. What happens after that is an intriguing story that puts us in the eyes of Lyra in our world and others, ranging from the normal to the fantastic. The idea was fascinating, and at the end, Lyra learns that jumping into other minds has its risks, and loses her own in the process.
I found the story to be fun, but a bit confusing as Ciriello moved from one Lyra to another, and then back to the original. Sometimes it seemed the other Lyras were the original, and I began to wonder if their realities started to blend. If they all were starting to become one sentient being that spanned across the multiverse, what would happen? We never find out, except at the end when we are told that the multiverse becomes “finally self-aware” in the last sentence of the story. I would recommend reading this one twice, as on the second pass it made more sense to me.
As a collection, Eight Against Reality is a good assortment of stories ranging from fantasy to science fiction to horror. The variety is enough to keep you from getting too bored with the book. With only eight stories, though, it doesn't feel like you really get full value from the book, especially when you consider that most of the stories are lackluster and none really shine as excellent.
If you have read stories from these writers in the past and seek more of their works, then you may find enjoyment within the pages of this collection. However, if you have never heard of these writers (and likely, you haven't), then you may want to give it a miss. There are far better collections available for the money.