sf short story reviews pt 2

“The Drowned Life”, Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse One, Jonathan Strahan, ed., Night Shade Books)

This story would seem to be informed by either personal nightmare or a Twilight Zone marathon, an eerie, abstract account of a man named Hatch, stuck in a job at an HMO denying people’s claims, with just as many problems at home. This metaphorical drowning takes on a life of its own, as he finds himself lost in an underwater world to where people seem to retreat when things aren’t going well. He’s not necessarily worried until a phone call for help from his grown son spurs a resolve to try and find his way home. The one person interested in helping him is revealed to have just him astray as revenge for one of those denied claims Hatch processed, but it gives him enough inner strength to contact his wife for help. But whether this is really happening, or does he just imagine it all, is left as an exercise for the reader, even up to the very end when his wife comes to take him home yet it doesn’t appear that things are going to work out in his favor. Ford plays this type of evocative story well anyway, but this is a tour de fource of atmosphere and surrealism, played against a search for meaning and identity that seems to be a common thread among several of the stories in this anthology so far. Well worth a look.

“Electric Rains”, Kathleen Ann Goonan, (Eclipse One, Jonathan Strahan, ed., Night Shade Books)

Goonan’s setting is prominent in this story, a post-apocalyptic future brought on by a domestic terrorist act that releases some unknown agent into the atmosphere that causes these electric rains, which have the ability to precipitate some sort of transformation in people exposed to them that will make them ready to be “uploaded”, although this is never really explained. The viewpoint character is Ella, the young daughter of the terrorists, who with her grandmother is trying to stay alive on the east coast several years later, where order has broken down and there is no clear indication of whether the rest of the world is affected or not. At the beginning of the story her grandmother has died and Ella has determined to bring her to a predetermined burial place in Washington DC, and most of the rest is a series of flashbacks. Since this Faulknerian odyssey doesn’t really involve too many pitfalls or confrontations, the focus would seem to point more to how the world got this way, but Goonan’s lack of more details in how this act of terrorism was conceived and what the real consequences were supposed to be, leave this story somewhat hollow. But the imagery of the anarchic surroundings that Ella moves through is well drawn, the accumulation of detail around Ella’s journey and her plight is very good, I just wish there was a little more specifics on how things got this way.

“Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox”, Ellen Klages (Eclipse One, Jonathan Strahan, ed., Night Shade Books)

This little vignette is only a few pages long, but is an amusing enough idea in a sort of Rudy Rucker-ish way, where two ladies, Midge and Annabel, get together for lunch and end up sharing a brownie for dessert, which they continually split into smaller and smaller pieces until they’ve violated the laws of physics and the universe implodes. The idea being derived from one of Mr. Zeno’s paradoxes, that any measurement can be infinitely divided and thus can never be achieved. As the subdivisions of the remaining halves of the brownie get smaller, the ladies are forced to use more precise and elaborate tools, yet which they are always able to pull out of their handbags as required. The breeziness and matter-of-fact approach Midge and Annabel take in carrying out their dividing duties give the story some charm, making for a fun diversion if not Hugo award material.

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