Rikki E. Betts
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
In theory, the theme of this anthology was international science fiction, meaning that the authors of these stories came from all over the world and that every story was supposed to have a sci-fi twist. The first part of the theme is accurate. There are stories from all over the globe in this anthology and that simple fact gave the collection an interesting flavor and lead me to be more forgiving of grammatical errors than I normally am (not that there were many errors. Most of the stories were essentially flawless, but some of the translated works had odd phrasing, unusual punctuation, or missing words and I couldn't tell if that was intentional or not.)
The second part of that theme, the science fiction bit, is less accurate. The anthology's description claims that the stories "run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror" and it's not kidding! Though the majority of the stories have an element of science fiction, very few of them are "true" science fiction, by which I mean that a lot of the stories don't even have a futuristic setting and I'm pretty sure that there were a few that were supposed to take place in universes where magic exists. In light of those facts, I'd actually label most of these stories as "fantasy" or "sci-fi fantasy."
Now that I've given those little disclaimers, let's talk about the stories. All sixteen of them. With that kind of range, I don't think that you'll be surprised to hear that there were stories that I found boring, stories that I loved, and stories that I just couldn't follow.
Since I have such a wide range of felling about these stories, it seems unfair to just rate the anthology as a whole, so I’m going to go through and give each story a mini-review and its own rating in addition to the overall rating that I've already given the anthology. Hopefully this will allow you to have a better idea of whether or not this is a collection that’s worth your time. I think that it is, especially if you normally stick to reading authors from your own country as this collection really does give the reader an interesting look into the minds of several individuals whose culture is strikingly different from what I consider to be the norm of mainstream media.
Enough about the book as a whole, let's talk about the stories:
Courtship in the Country of Machine Gods – I’m not sure why this was chosen as the first story because it made me dread reading the rest of the anthology. It’s not that the story is bad, I actually really wanted to like it, it’s just that it’s a very long and confusing short story that was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a novel. If the author had just taken everything that was written here, expanded on it a bit, added a little more detail, and actually explained what was going on, then the story would probably be a 200 page novel. Still, if you don’t mind a the idea of a vague story that just gives you glimpses into a math-worshiping, futuristic society, then you’ll probably enjoy this story and walk away with something to think about. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either, so it gets 3/5.
A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight – This second story should have been the one that opened the anthology. Though it starts off slowly and leaves the reader thinking that it’s just a story about a young boy growing up in futuristic China, it soon changes into something more complex and beautifully haunting that asks the reader what it means to be alive. Can you manufacture life and is someone still alive if you take away their body? It asks these questions without ever actually stating them, too, and for that it gets 5/5.
Act of Faith – If a computer can think and feel, then can it have a soul? Can it become a Muslim? It’s an interesting idea, but the story that presents this idea fell short. It didn't present any arguments that a robot could be religious, it just took a robot and had its owner teach it the Muslim faith. A faith that the robot accepted without question. I think that one of the main reason this story fell short was that the robot was too human in its mannerisms. It forgets things, it takes too long to learn things, and it has a wide range of emotions such as fear and love seemingly from day one. Computers function off of logic and this one never seemed to, so it read like a story about a human learning to be a Muslim instead of the story of a robot developing a soul. In spite of the story's flaws, it was an interesting look into the Muslim faith (something that I know very little about) and that made it worth the read for me, even if the sci-fi elements fell short, so it gets a 3/5.
The Foreigner – This is an interesting little story about a half-human boy who’s trying to prove his citizenship and it did exactly what it needed to. Not a word was wasted and even though it was very light on the details, I didn't care. I just wanted to find out what happened and my heart was pounding as I read it. It gets 5/5 for being just as thrilling as an action movie and for all of the cool gadgets that it introduces.
The City of Silence – This one certainly hits home in today’s world of debates surrounding internet censorship. When the government begins to control the web, just how far can they take it? What if, instead of banned words, we had “healthy words,” the sacred few things that people were allowed to type or even say. This is the story of one man’s existence in such a world and it gets 5/5 for being a fascinating read and for using the word “technocrat,” which is such a cool twist on the word bureaucrat that I instantly fell in love with it.
Planetfall - I'm not sure what to say about this one. It's very unique, but I also found it near impossible to follow due to all of the strange names that were used in the story and I don't mean names from another culture. The story uses common, English words to refer to people's positions and fates, but doesn't explain these terms. It just uses them as if I should already know what they mean and, by end, I sort of did, but it made for a confusing read and I still don't understand why these people were stuck on a strange planet or why some men were considered "wanderers" or even how the merpeople of this alien world worked. I'm not sure that I was supposed to, though. It felt as if the author was trying to write a story from a dream. Something ethereal and half-formed, but captivating none the less. I'll give it 4/5 for being interesting and I'm sure that there are readers out there who will really enjoy this piece as it certainly feels like reading something from another world.
Jungle Fever - The anthology's description claims that the stories "run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror" and this story is a full-on horror. In it, a young woman encounters a strange plant and it's poison changes her into something that is terrifying and gruesome. Since I don't know how squeamish my readers are, I'm going to give you my rating, 5/5, and leave my review at that. If you are squeamish and you choose to check out this anthology, please be aware that you may want to skip this story as it's not for the faint of heart.
To Follow The Waves - I liked this one. I started off thinking that it was interesting, then it got slightly creepy and I thought that I was going to end up hating it, but the ending... Oh that sweet, sweet ending just made everything okay again. This one gets 5/5. "To Follow The Waves" is about a world in which skilled artisans can craft dreams and what happens when one artisan becomes obsessed with a person that she sees only once and then begins to fantasize about that person when she sculpts dreams. Anyone who's ever known someone who fell in love with his or her idea of a person instead of the actual person will enjoy this one.
Ahuizotl - Another entry in the horror/suspense genre, though I didn't find it overly frightening and I don't think that it would leave the average reader shaken. It's a pretty standard horror/suspense story. So standard that I think that any discussion of the plot would let you know exactly what was coming. Let's just say it involves a young woman traveling to the new world to pay her last respects to her deceased brother. A man who died under mysterious circumstances. It's certainly not a bad story, but it was underwhelming and far from original, so I'm giving it 3/5.
The Rare Earth - This was my least favorite of all of the stories in this anthology. My first issue was that the story had some minor formatting problems when it came to paragraph breaks. Sometimes a sentence would be randomly broken between two paragraphs and there were a few times when the dialog of multiple characters was crammed into a single paragraph, making it hard to follow the conversations. Then there were my issues with the plot. The story starts off following a young woman named Dora for about 5 pages and then we follow another character for a couple of pages and then yet another character for the rest of it. None of these characters have a full arc and, when a new character is given the stage, the old one is mostly ignored. There's also the fact that the author never explains what's going on. I still don't understand how the character Gidion did all of the things he did or why he thought/claimed that he was The Redeemer (as in Jesus Christ, the son of God, returned). That's another issue, if you're at all religious, or even if you just have a healthy respect for the belief's of others, you will probably find this story offensive or uncomfortable to read. Given all of these issues, I'm going to have to give this one 2/5.
Spider's Nest - I have no idea what this story is about. I know that the main character is named Spider and that he talks about drugs and getting high, but I'm not sure what the drugs are or if he actually does them and, well, this is just one of those stories that you have to read to get it. Words can't describe it. Still, I need to give it a rating and I'm giving it 3/5 simply because I have no idea if I liked it or not.
Waiting with Mortals - Ghosts come to be when a mortal dies unfulfilled. It's an old legend: to remove a ghost, you have to bring its soul to rest. You have to right the wrong done to it or help it finish a task that it never got to complete while alive. Only then will the ghost "cross over" into the next world, life, whatever. Another tale, lest often told, is that ghosts can possess mortals. These two legends blend together to make the premise of "Walking with Mortals," the story of a boy who died at 16 and has been around ever since. It's a story about accepting your flaws and about realizing that you can't let others control your life (or afterlife). I'm giving it 4/5 for presenting a rather unique look into the world of ghosts and for the lesson that it tells, if you care to listen.
Three Little Children - This is another horror story and certainly not for the faint of heart. Now that I've given that disclaimer, onto the real review. "Three Little Children" is a story told by a grandfather to his grandchildren and there's a certain air of mystery and whimsy to the whole thing. While it clearly takes place in a modern city, there are times when the storyteller switches things up and tells the story as if it were taking place in a fairytale world. The odd mixture of reality and fantasy makes what would otherwise be a terrifying and sad story a lot easier to read. There's also the interesting "twist" that comes at the ending, but I can't reveal that without ruining the story. Let's just say that it was interesting enough to earn this story a 5/5.
Brita's Holiday Village - This one was, well, it wasn't boring, but it wasn't interesting either. It honestly failed to leave any lasting impression on me because there wasn't anything unique about it. It's the story of a 32-year-old woman who goes to live at her aunt's cabin so that she can be "away from it all." The main reason for this self-imposed isolation is so that she can write a novel. While there, she begins having strange dreams. All of these things are very common story elements, but that's okay. You can take a common story and still make it interesting if you've got good characters or a unique twist. This story didn't have any of that, so it gets 3/5.
Regressions - This is one of those stories that has a lot of complex elements and ideas, but it presents them in a way that's relatively easy to follow. It's also a story with a very complicated plot, as is true for most stories about time travel. So, why is the main character time traveling? Well, in a distant future, India has been segregated into separate nations. One is ruled by men who treat women as a servant class and the other is ruled by women. The women's nation has no men and all of its people are clones. This girls only nation sends out time-traveling agents to endeavor to bring about a gender-equal society and, well, you'll have to read the story to see what happens in this interesting little tale that I'm giving 5/5. The one thing that I should note about this story is that it presents the men in it in a very negative light. However, this does not appear to be due to any hatred of men, but more due to the cultural climate surrounding the treatment of women and girls in India.
Dancing on the Red Planet - What a lovely way to end the anthology! In a not so distant future, a team of astronauts is on their way to Mars to make the first human landing on the red planet. The only problem is that several members of the team have decided that this momentous occasion should be done in style. In other words, they don't want to walk onto this new world, they want to dance onto it. The amusing tale that surrounds the team's dancing debate was fun and lighthearted, but still strangely powerful, making this my #1 story in the anthology and earning it a 5/5.