Review: “The Traumatized Generation” by Murray J.D. Leeder

4 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story is set roughly one generation into a zombie apocalypse. Many large cities are still inundated with the lumbering dead, while a few have become safe bastions for the living. In Calgary, walls and fences protect the city and vaccines have largely inoculated the local citizens against further development of new zombies. However, not all is well in the eyes of Land, a 7th grade teacher.

The military-run government now requires all citizens of a certain age to enlist in the war against the zombies as there are still many front lines. Political propaganda has popularized gladiatorial battles against the undead in a former Olympic arena. However, attendance at these theatrical events is compulsory for students of a certain age, regardless of the student’s or the student’s parents’ beliefs, concerns or objections.

I really liked the world-building in this short piece and the ending caught me partially by surprise which was an added bonus.
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Review: The Dystopian Nation of City-State: An Anthology – Origin, Corruption, and Rebellion

The Dystopian Nation of City-State: An Anthology - Origin, Corruption, and Rebellion
The Dystopian Nation of City-State: An Anthology – Origin, Corruption, and Rebellion by James Courtney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It cannot be emphasized enough that this anthology of vignettes is not a novel, nor the first in a series. It is an introduction to a well-thought-out, dystopian future nation in the form of vignettes that do not rise to the level of being short stories. The vignettes are character studies and scenes from across the Nation of City-State involving a smattering of mostly unrelated, or loosely associated characters. The effect is not unlike watching Sin City or Crash and waiting for the elements to coalesce into a larger narrative arc. That does not fully formulate here, despite the vignettes eventually starting to build on each other or pass a baton between themselves.

The strength of this collection, that rates a solid 3-stars, is the series of scenes firmly taking place twelve centuries into the future. After a few false starts and loose threads, the scenes start to trace a broad picture by leaving a dotted line to the next scene. For example, a character may catch a news report about an athlete at the end of a scene, the next scene may be about that athlete, and the subsequent scene has the new focal character pass the athlete on the street. This works, and it works well. Unfortunately, it takes a while for this successful pattern of world-building to emerge. The first two vignettes in the anthology take place a millennium prior, thereby delaying the entry into the book. These two moments are meant to serve as necessary history, but would have been just as useful as mythologized notions of history artfully dispensed throughout the anthology. Just as distracting is the third scene which is meant to be read as a government memorandum, but doesn’t read as such with its awkward history and civil engineering lessons. Again, these lessons could have been dispensed throughout to greater effect.

The anthology reads like an author’s background notes at times, and as world-building at other times. Clearly, a great story or series of stories can emerge from this background. I look forward to reading the finished product in the form of a novel (or series). The current form, however, was too scatter-shot for my taste and still full of errata which distracts from the immersive goal of science fiction.

There were a couple other distractions, too. There is a cult in the book, in which the cult members refer to themselves as a cult. That is a term I’d only imagine outsiders using to describe a group. From within, I expect to hear motivations and reasoning, no matter how whack. But I did not get a sense of any motivations from the cult. All actions were dismissed as acts of evil. But that is a hard concept to grasp. Evil, too, is an outsider’s explanation for inexplicable actions. From within, I’d expect to hear the crazy talk of true believers. I also found it odd, that in a memo between people within The Nation, the city was described as a futuristic city. This, too, is an outsider’s term, if not an anachronistic one. To the citizens, it is the only city that they know and clearly of their own time.

I received a free copy of this anthology through a Kindle-link on the author’s blog.
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Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second Patrick Rothfuss book I’ve read having previously tackled The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) which I liked (and rated 4 stars). I liked this one better despite Rothfuss’ hemming and apologizing for it, and his insistence that one should read his other books first. I respectfully disagree. I can be a bit stingy with the term poetic. And in no way does Rothfuss try to make this novella a poem. But it is decidedly poetic, and beautifully so.

Auri, a mysterious side character in Rothfuss’ better known series, is nearly the only character in this fanciful work. She is a broken, forgotten young woman living beneath a bustling city and university in what she terms, The Underthing. The Underthing is the sprawling subterranean network of sewers and forgotten basements and mechanisms that survives from a previous era of hundreds of years prior. Auri exists here like a battered bird that won’t leave its cage despite the door hanging from one hinge. She fusses and obsesses with every little detail she sees in perhaps one of the most poetic depictions of OCD, I’ve ever read. In her own words coming just pages from the end:

That was the only way. You did not want things for yourself. That made you small. That kept you safe. That meant you could move smoothly through the world without upsetting every applecart you came across. And if you were careful, if you were a proper part of things, then you could help. You mended what was cracked. You tended to the things you found askew. And you trusted that the world in turn would brush you up against the chance to eat. It was the only graceful way to move. All else was vanity and pride.

It’s true that little happens in this tale. That is not the point. The story tells six days in the life of Auri as she prepares for a meeting with a boy (whom we can guess to be Kvothe, the protagonist in The Name of the Wind). Her flickering moods and levels of light transform the spaces and objects around her. One such space, The Twelve, is variously called: the Yellow Twelve, the Gray Twelve, the Black Twelve and the Silver Twelve. The tale is watching Auri interpret and interact within this shifting world:

She knew the way of things. She knew if you weren’t always stepping lightly as a bird the whole world came apart to crush you. Like a house of cards. Like a bottle against stones. Like a wrist pinned hard beneath a hand with the hot breath smell of want and wine. . . .

Her place, beneath all things, is to see things as they are, in the moment that they are. And if, in that moment, the thing is perfect; she will know that too. “She knew the true shape of the world. All else was shadow and the sound of distant drums.”

Highly recommended.
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