Novella Review: Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Inhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe NovellaInhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella taking pace in the lunar dome-city of Armstrong fits into the larger Retrieval Artist world, but stands alone quite well [in the opinion of this reviewer who’s never read anything by Rusch before, nor heard of this series].

The novella opens with the promise of a tight detective tale with alternating POVs between detective Noelle DeRicci and coroner Ethan Broduer as they both investigate a body dump in a crate of compost slated to be spread over the dome-city’s food farms. Things get more complicated in the identification process in this world of natural humans, aliens, and both slow-grow and fast-grow clones. Laws are different around each with clones merely counting as property for their creator.

While the larger human rights issues surface, especially as it deals with clones, the tale zeroes in on the convoluted politics of the crime families, ruling Earth Alliance, and the dirty city politics. Surprisingly and disappointingly, more POVs are added to the rush of narrative pulling the tale cleanly away from DeRicci and Broduer. The head of the main crime family whose fired nanny was the composted body, his head of security, and DeRicci’s politically motivated boss take over the narrative leading to a largely unsatisfying non-ending.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma

Fabulous BeastsFabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The darkest of family secrets: rape, incest, murder and betrayal coil and writhe beneath the skin in this dark novelette set among the seedier neighborhoods outside Liverpool. Two timelines entwine to show how ugly little Lola along with her pretty sister-cousin, Tallulah, escapes her horror-filled past to become scientifically-successful, if not still socially awkward Eliza on the arm of her beautiful, celebrity lover, Georgia. More than just her name was sloughed off to become the adult survivor that she is.

The violence and psychologically scarred upbringing ring with fear and quiet desperation.

The novella contains a fantastical, dysmorphic element not unusual with themes of abuse, gender dysphoria, or abnormal sexuality. Adult Eliza works as a herpetologist with a specialty in vipers. She embodies many elements of the snakes she loves to overcome her family secrets and to escape her past.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books.




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Short Story Review: “Damfino Plays for Table Stakes” by Ben Solomon

3 of 5 stars.

A literary rogue is a character that bends rules around themselves, acting independently and often cleverly or with a uniquely manipulative quality. Examples include: Robinhood, The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, any lead character in a tale by Patrick Rothfuss or Scott Lynch. Often found in fantasy, they can pop up in all genres.

This tale depicts a high stakes poker game between a rogue, Damfino, and a mafia boss. Damfino relentlessly wins and raises the stakes to include the lives of the mafioso’s henchmen. The tale is clever in Damfino’s game, but vague in his method. He denies luck plays a part. But clearly, he’s playing more than just cards . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
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Short Story Review: “The Body Finder” by Kaaron Warren

2 of 5 stars.

Varying accounts exist for spirits in the afterlife. However, for those left behind, the desperation and sadness proves to be more universal.

In this tale, for thirty years a father mourns the murder of his daughter, her body never recovered. After a decade in jail for killing his daughter’s killer, he sets out on a life quest to find his daughter’s body and any other murdered bodies he can find, and to help them find peace. A body-finder, not unlike a metal detector, steers him toward bodies waiting to be discovered. And yet he finds so much more.

Attached to most of the bodies are ghosts, and they do want rest. After he learns to understand the restless spirits, he starts to figure out who must have murdered the individual, not that he does anything with that information. His sole concern to for the spirit. Quizzically, what a spirit wants most is to return to the scene of their murder . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Nursery Corner” and “Working for the God of the Love of Money”.




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Short Story Review: “Asymptotic” by Andy Dudak

3 of 5 stars.

At its best, sci-fi pushes and pulls against the achievements and possibilities of mankind and the very laws and limits of science itself. The laws of science, of course, are not like the laws of man however–they aren’t suggestions with consequences, they are hard and fast rules holding the fabric of the cosmos together as it expands. These are rules not meant to be broken, indeed, it shouldn’t even be possible lest the laws themselves are somehow wrong.

This tale pushes space travel to the extreme by following the very historic and selfish nature of mankind. Regular space travel is ok. Warp speed breaking Einstein’s predictions isn’t as it rips the delicate fabric of the cosmos. To heal the tears, a fee must be paid back in terms of energy and time–like a speeding ticket on a cosmic level. But that is a price some are willing to pay, if just to enjoy the thrill of the vaster universe and otherwise unreachable solar systems.

This tale follows Nuhane through many stages of his extremely, genetically enhanced long life as he and his mentor, and later his intern, hunt down the violators and exact the penalty of stasis for a length of time to off-set the damage done. That term often lasts for millions of years.

But even those enforcing the laws feel the thrill, and must pay the price . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Last Bringback” by John Barnes

2 of 5 stars.

Increased longevity has been a goal for mankind and science for decades, if not centuries. Unfortunately, with longevity comes the perils of old age–dementia and strokes affect a larger portion of the population along with the inevitable breakdown of the body.

This tale takes a page out of the GMO book and imagines that genetically manufactured humans, aka nubrids, are set to survive for 5-7 centuries. Individuals in their eighties and nineties look like young adults. With the neoteny–the retention of juvenile characteristics well into adulthood, or delayed maturation–comes a monotony of personalities as this nubrid generation has time to work through quirks and social issues. They also experience a blandness of emotions–no rage, nor true joy.

The first generation of nubrids closing in on the century mark overlaps with the last of the naturals showcasing the last cases of Alzheimer’s and other old-age calamities. At first, as with GMOs, there were backlashes and naturalism movements, but eventually naturalism was outlawed and the last of the hold outs were captured and sterilized . . .

Dr. Layla Palemba is one of the last one surviving naturals. Like most, she struggles with Alzheimer’s which will never infirm the predominant nubrids–she is also one of the world experts on dementia. Palemba’s parents had been vocally pro-naturalism, rallying for true emotion and less human intervention. Ironically, Dr. Palemba loathed them for it, considering the sentence of old-age to be unacceptable. At 31 and in a rage, she famously murdered them with a cleaver. And from this rage and grisly murder sprang her greatest elation, a pure joy that she still savors . . .

This elaborate and ironic set-up is fascinating and worth exploring. Working less well is the focus of the tale on Dr. Palemba’s “Bringback” procedure in which she coaxes buried and presumed lost memories from the plaques of Alzheimer’s. How and why this works remains muddled and yet commandeers the narrative.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of DeadAnd You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The noir voice lends itself well to both detectives and mercenaries who often have much in common. It provides the personal perspective and often vulnerability and heart to the trained body and mind. Here, the protagonist isn’t human at all, but the sentimentality inherent in the noir voice shows her weakness as the AI mercenary finds herself caring where she prides herself on being ruthless and detached.

Sentient AI and humans mix in the mobster-inundated, refuse-choked worlds of Jupiter’s moons. Rhye [the hired gun] and Rack [her cyber-savvy partner] find themselves on the wrong side of a job gone bad. Rack takes a body-ending bullet to the face, sending Rhye on a desperate journey to finish the job, save Rack’s consciousness, and not get killed herself.

The narration is gummed up with overly ubiquitous, noir-appropriate metaphors and the necessarily complicated relation of reality to cyber-reality. Despite the imaginative set-up, few surprises arise.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]