Wagging 13 Dystopian Tales
ANIMALS AS MAIN CHARACTERS in fiction used to mean cuteness, didactic Captain Obvious messages, and the kiss of death to acquisitions editors. These days, our furry or feathered friends are likely to be sentient, sophisticated, and savvy. I like it. I especially like the animal heroes in “Chronicle Worlds: Tails of Dystopia,” edited by Samuel Peralta and Chris Pourteau. With that D-word in the title, we don’t expect Disney-style warm fuzzies. With Peralta and Pourteau curating the authors, we do expect “Tails of Dystopia” to be first-rate.
All expectations are satisfied.
It isn’t just because proceeds help Pets for Vets, a project benefiting homeless animals and war veterans, that this anthology “went on to become the #1 Bestselling SF Anthology on Amazon.” Thirteen stories, set in worlds fully realized in other published fiction, showcase some of today's most accomplished writers of speculative fiction.
Pourteau and Peralta put together “Tails of Dystopia” as a follow-up to Pourteau's 2015 release, “Tails of the Apocalypse.” I appreciate the sampler premise, introducing readers to the fictional worlds of thirteen authors who have more on tap where that came from, e.g., Ann Christy's PePrs. Just when I thought the TV series “The Humans” (reviewed in 12-March-2017 Perihelion) was a far-off fiction, authors like Christy remind me that it’s all more plausible, and more imminent, than I care to imagine. (No, it does not mean I will stop thinking of Stephen Hawking as Chicken Little. Whether by robot apocalypse or Trump as president, the renowned British scientist has no end of ways for us to fear imminent annihilation.)
The end of life as we know it is the core of dystopian fiction. Our beautiful world is annihilated, or abandoned, or taken over by cruel overlords. Life will go on, though, in “Tails of Dystopia,” even if it means vacating a ruined Earth to colonize in outer space. Cheri Lasota's “Planetfall” takes us by spaceship to New Eden, where the age-old problems start up again, one faction of humans vs another.
The promise of romance and the bonus of a telepathic dog bring a sense of fun to Lasota’s story. While I tend to shun the romance genre and all its tropes, this “tail” tale left me smiling. And that is no small feat. Bring on the sexy space captains with PTSD, as long as they come with “the first schnauzer in space”—one of many lines that left me grateful for Lasota’s light outlook.
Daniel Arthur Smith's “Eggby” also left me feeling better about humanity and the world to come, even though some really dark, desperate, terrifying things happen. I winced and cringed at the sizzling of small mammals after they run through some hot duct work in the ceiling, but the tarsier (gotta love that tarsier!) lives. What a creature! What a masterful tale of humans exploiting the agility of cute little mammals and enhancing them with brain implants to do our bidding. How does Smith get me to like such a wicked premise? The tarsier is a simple primate, motivated by the reward of crunchy bugs or lizards, and there is just no room for PETA protests in a story like this one. I loved every minute of it.
Justin Sloan's “The Last Bobcat” is funny and snarky and wonderful. I totally need to read more of this author, who was raised on an island, “and at the corner of our road, someone had a large bobcat in a cage. As a child, it was fun and terrifying living so near such a wild creature, and of course my parents often worried what would happen if it got out.” I also want more of Allie, the crazy kick-ass heroine with the flaming sword and warrior spirit.
“You can’t fight the end of the world,” an older and wiser woman tells Allie.
“Watch me,” Allie replies.
Ah, I needed that. December 2017 was rough. The whole year was. Allie reminds me that giving up is not an option. And the bobcat, whose name isn’t Bob, thank you very much, made me laugh. Did I mention how rare it is that a story makes me smile these days? Laughing, no less—that makes “The Last Bobcat” worth the price of all thirteen stories put together--which is a mere ninety-nine cents until the introductory offer ends. After that, it’s still a steal at only three dollars for stories that cheer us. Well, a couple of them merely make us feel our own world could be a lot worse, but I’ll take that too.
If you read my 2015 review of “Tails of the Apocalypse,” you already know how many of those stories ripped my heart out. “Demon and Emily” by David Adams, “The Water Finder's Shadow” by David Bruns, and “The Poetry of Santiago” by Jennifer Ellis are so haunting, I vowed never to read these authors again. Oh, my worthless vows! Good writers lure me back for more of this abuse, again and again. This time, Bruns didn’t remind me of my own dear, departed dogs dying of old age. Shadow, the canine sidekick, gets promoted in “The Water Finder's Apprentice.” No old tom haunts Ellis’s story, this time. She grew up with a border collie, and it shows. She knows these dogs. In “Cry Wolf,” Emmett the border collie is a good boy. He wants to obey Master. When other dogs “cry wolf,” they are punished and humiliated. What’s a good boy to do when he intuits danger but risks another false alarm if he barks?
Rysa Walker's dog Daphne has an even more confusing job, with time travel and parallel dimensions threatening her pack. “The Circle-That-Whines” is an intriguing read, full of mystery and reasons to seek out more stories from Walker’s “CHRONOS” books and novellas. Harlow C. Fallon's “The Ones Who Walk Beside You” had me worried for Joe, his friends wolf and horse, and the gift they share. Again, I was not crushed and punished with a tragic ending. Thank you Harlow!
What a pleasant surprise to find John L. Monk in this anthology. I’ve been hooked on Monk since his debut novel, “Kick,” first appeared a few years ago. I devoured each new installment in the trilogy, known as the Dan Jenkins cycle, which culminated in a “binge edition”--and if you read Monk, you know why “binge” is so fitting. Food is one of the great hooks in the Dan Jenkins tales, and food is more important than ever in “Monkey Do (a This Dark Age story).”
Narrating from the point of view of Max the chimp, Monk captures the voice with authenticity and great comic effect. I thought The Jenkins cycle had a dark side, but Monk's second trilogy is set in a world where all the adults die of a mysterious new disease, leaving the children to take over on a scale that makes “Lord of the Flies” look like a family vacation.
I can't help but love Max and his mission to feed all the animals Farmer Ray left in his care. When a boy and girl discover the farm--free food for the taking!--Max must find a way to thwart them. His progression from mild Max to avenger and defender has me thinking this would be great as a graphic novel. Ever consider turning this into a comic book, Mr. Monk?
The ending is dark, but not in a way that has me shaking fists of rage or feeling the futility of it all.
E.E. Giorgi never fails to delight and intrigue me. “Octant VI” is her third short story set in the world of The Quarium Wars. A tween girl, Destiny, and her ferret, Duyi, scavenge a ruined planet (what better place for refugees and war orphans to hide?). What they find in the scrap heap one day changes everything. There's a scene as epic as Dorothy, Toto, and the hot air balloon. There’s also a story coming about Destiny in her teen years, which I’ve beta-read and love-hated, because Giorgi does what great writers must do: make her protagonists suffer. But “Octant VI” ends on a more positive note, and that’s where I will stay for now.
Ann Christy’s PePrs are a fascinating concept. Make one of them a lion, and I’m even more smitten. If you want to know more about Perfect Partners, don’t imagine I’m going to tell you. Buy the books. Proceeds help support Pets for Vets, a charity that rescues and re-trains shelter animals and matches them with military veterans who could use a companion animal.
“Khan” by David Adams gives us a rare white tiger fighting for freedom on another planet. Beautiful story, with sad observations about the human race, and everything to love about the tiger.
"The Weight of Hunger" by Robert Calas is a darker selection. A kestrel falcon named Eglantine shows us the beauty of her lady and the world that was lost, the burden of hunger, and the pressure to choose between staying true to what one is versus becoming one of “them.”
Hank Garner has a truly heart-rending tale with a young autistic boy separated from his parents as the world is threatened with annihilation. A dog and a mysterious stranger bring the boy some comfort in “He Knows the Way Home.” If you need a trigger warning, let me tell you, this is the single most PTSD-inducing story here.
Samuel Peralta and Chris Pourteau hand-pick authors from the hundreds of books they read every year, and their judgment is like the iconic Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. They choose only the best. (“Chronicle Worlds: Tails of Dystopia,” edited by Samuel Peralta and Chris Pourteau, Windrift Books) —Carol Kean.
Will Show for Computer Geeks Continue?
TONIGHT IS THE THIRD season finale of “Mr. Robot,” one of my favorite shows of all time. If we really are in a “Golden Age of Television,” Mr. Robot is Exhibit A. I started binging on TV series with “Six Feet Under,” recommended to me by a florist. I then binged “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.” Throw in “Westworld,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Taboo,” sundry “Star Trek” spin-offs, “The Walking Dead” (and “Fear the Walking Dead”) and there’s barely time to watch movies. More importantly, a series of 32 episodes (that’s how many episodes of Mr. Robot will have aired after the third season finale) allows a level of plot complications and character development that aren’t possible in a two-hour movie. Yes, this sometimes results in episodes of mere “filler”, as has unfortunately occurred with The Walking Dead. There’s no “filler” in Mr. Robot, as every episode is worth watching.
Mr. Robot has other TV series beat. As much as I liked The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, I can’t personally identify with gangsters. However I’m a computer geek so I can identify with the hackers portrayed Mr. Robot. The computer hacking scenes in Mr. Robot have a verisimilitude that has never appeared in a drama before, because they hired real hackers to be technical advisors and it shows. Mr. Robot incorporates news headlines and the zeitgeist in a way other shows don’t. Add that the episodes of Mr. Robot are experimental with the form, and you have a show that’s head and shoulders above the rest.
For those who haven’t yet tuned in to Mr. Robot, it’s about a hacker named Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek). His hacker abilities are his superpower. If you have the misfortune to get on his bad side, he’ll hack your life and you’ll hear a knock on the door from the police, or you’ll be fired, or find all your bank accounts drained, or most likely all three. Elliot soon sets his sights higher than just hacking evil individuals and hacks E(vil) Corp, bringing about the failure of the entire economy. He enlists others, and they become a hacker group called fsociety.
Besides being a superhacker, Elliot has mental health issues. He’s got a few, but mainly he’s got a split personality. His other personality is his dead father Edward Alderson (Christian Slater), the titular Mr. Robot. Even though Elliot’s father is nominally dead, Mr. Robot can appear at any time and take over Elliot’s body. By the third season, the two personalities inhabiting Elliot’s body are at war. This is just one of many conflicts played out on Mr. Robot. Others involve the FBI and The Dark Army, a group of hackers (or gangsters?) with ties to China and led by the transvestite Whiterose (BD Wong).
As I write this, fans of Mr. Robot don’t know if it will be renewed for a fourth season. This is a real cliffhanger, as it hasn’t yet been canceled or renewed. Ratings are down, but critical acclaim remains high. Will critical acclaim alone be enough to save Mr. Robot? I hope so! (“Mr. Robot,” USA Network, Wed 9) —Joshua Berlow
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