This was certainly a good value collection - more than 45 stories, which lasted a good while. As with any anthology there is a mix of styles, moods (some serious, some humorous), quality, viewpoints, themes and so on. As such it is difficult to summarise the overall collection, and easier to give examples of the stories I enjoyed most (in the order in which they appear), along with a quote that I liked from each story.
Auditory Crescendo (Geoff Nelder)
"If they were much closer, their voices would hurt; vibrate his brain to migraine jelly."
A satisfying mix of action and mystery in a world with no moral compass.
Caveat Emptor! (Bec Zugor)
"I collected the blood," I whisper. "Had a few sips - don't know why - and took the rest back to my habi and painted with it. Nothing recognisable. Just splashed it on and brushed it over the wall. I think it was going to be a line drawing, a sketch of some sort."
An enjoyable story with a twist in the tale. It mixes violence and art on a compact canvas. The colour selections at the end were convincing details, and the way they described what was happening was a lovely bit of form and theme matching.
Testing (Kaolin Fire)
"He dipped his hand into the bowl of pinkish gruel in the center, and had a sip of thick liquid. Life ... life wasn't that bad, when you got used to it."
An interesting and very short story that made me think and work. I would have liked a teeny bit more illumination at the end, but any story that I think about afterwards is a success.
An Empty Kind of Love (Adam Colston)
"Honey," she pouted to her reflection, "why don't we fool around?" She followed it up with a flash of teeth and her most vivacious smile. Her internal diagnostics monitored the performance closely. They instantly confirmed that her sexual allure was fully functional.
An excellent twist on my expectations as whimsy turns to something darker.
Chester (Karl Bunker)
"He looked up at me and tried to climb up onto my lap, but none of his rear legs seemed to be working, and he was holding his ball with one of his front feet. I hadn't put the ball in there. He must have been holding it when I put him in the case."
A sad story but with hope, too. A world situation painted in metaphor hues. I liked it because I'm a big softy.
The Inn Between (Michael Anderson)
"He ran to the window and watched in awe as his entire neighborhood began forming out of nothing and spreading across the landscape. It undulated in brilliant colors and snapped into reality."
An intriguing purgatorial mystery with a bleak twist, hints of a subjective perspective Robin Cook novel.
The Prettiest Star (Jaine Fenn)
"I've got `cold fire' all right. It's all I've got now. That and this view."
An interesting setting and tone, bleak and believable, but with beauty in the lines.
Outside the Grid (D.J. Emry)
"It builds a monument of rock samples near its favorite boulder, and writes a message of welcome with the aid of its rock abrasion tool, its loyal ship's RAT."
Short and sweet and keeps your mind active whilst creating an unexpected empathy.
Relativity (Gareth D. Jones)
"Her eyes were a brilliant green, like emeralds that had caught the light, and she would stare with such intensity that he was sure there was something special there, just beyond his vision."
A short story with impact. I saw the twist coming but the mental image still retained strength.
Doc (Barry Pomeroy)
"While Doc watched, the thing turned this way and that, looking for a good path through the boulders and sand, and Doc could see its true nature. It was a fake, thin like the metal walls of the cart, like the thin plates of black stone that made up the tarmac. When it turned to come towards him, Doc could see its falseness, although when it turned sideways it loomed large, even compared to the cliff. It was like a moving wall, but with an eye on either side. Its legs moved too fast to count, even if Doc had an inclination to try. The sight was overwhelming."
I hereby break my own rules. I don't normally like stories that don't seem to fully explain themselves. But here I was thrown into an interesting and confusing situation, I could visualise it and wanted to know more, to unravel the mystery. I didn't succeed in the latter.
It's Easier to Pretend in the Dark (David Tallerman)
"It was beyond her. All she could manage was to look as if she'd cry at any moment: her dark eyes wide, her chin bobbing, and one hand hovering around her heart as if it was about to crack. All of that was Henrietta's too - yet each affected mannerism seemed real now, full of meaning. Just like Henrietta, she didn't cry. Unlike Henrietta, she didn't argue either."
A sad story that works, even though I would have liked a bit more. Hints of Greg Egan's preoccupations here in the technology-facilitated relationships we don't currently have.
Wet Life (Gayle Applegate)
"He pinpointed the wiring attached to the car's computer and removed an adapter implant from behind his ear. After inserting the proper wires he returned the adapter and awaited the transfer of information. Within seconds an assortment of command codes downloaded data relative to the car's electrical components. A visual of the Crossfire's schematic accompanied the codes. He scanned the design, found what he wanted and transmitted the appropriate signal.
Click. The trunk unlocked."
A well written story that starts in action and pace and continues that way up until the abrupt and bewildering end. I love rats and hate vivisection so the protagonist appealed to me immediately.
One Long Holiday (Ben Cheetham)
"The sun was fast burning off the pale mist that hung over the beach. Soon, Connor knew, the corpses would blow up like obscene balloons and the air would fill with the scent of roasting flesh. He worked quickly, rifling through pockets and bags."
Restrained and emotional at the same time, excellent writing, with a clever dripping of appropriate detail without over-telling. Probably my favourite story. This reminded me of 'The Road' (McCarthy).
Whisper in the Void (Robert Blevins)
A repetitive beep-beep-beep got Harris' attention.
Eastman pointed to something on the scanners. "Land," he said quietly. "There is something down there. I'm adjusting course." He added, "Doesn't seem like much."
"What do you mean?"
"It could be a rock sticking up out of the ocean. It can't be more than a couple of hundred square meters..."
This is a story of predicament that reminded me of Stephen King's short story 'Survivor Type'. The horror for me was the small amount of land in a world of sea. When I read this I had assumed the rock they landed on was really part of some sea creature, and the only bit of `land' on the sea world would dive at some point. At the same time I had been discussing jellyfish with the writer Helen J. Beal. All those images stuck in my mind and added an extra element of subjective horror. The irritating Ensign in the story was part of the twist, enabling us to see the nobility of another character, even though I wanted the Ensign to get his just desserts!
Red Monkeys (Rebecca Latyntseva)
"It was an ordinary, hung-over winter dawn, crows cawing in dissonant harmony with Papa's snoring. Larisa edged out of bed, wincing as razorblading pain slashed. Navigating her way through an obstacle course of empty Stolichnaya bottles, handcuffs, full ashtrays and whips, she zigzagged into the bathroom."
Another of my favourites, this really stuck me, almost visceral. The sparse detail is effective, letting the imagination fill in the blanks. It is obviously inspired by the excellent Gilliam film '12 Monkeys'. There is clever use of language, and the writer develops a unique voice for the messages/diaries.