If there is any theme that all of these stories have adhered to, it is the idea of the magic in the mundane.
3.75/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: Speculative fiction anthology (SFF, dystopian, alternate historical fiction)
Publication: 17th July 2020
Pages: 210 (ebook)
Charging selflessly into danger, facing the mortality of an artificially extended life, plumbing the deepest depths of space, fighting to expose truths others want to keep hidden… This collection of all-new stories from Brain Lag authors features never-before-seen glimpses into favourite worlds as well as new characters and places to love. From starkly beautiful to brashly funny and everything in between, these stories showcase the range of voices Brain Lag has been proud to publish over the years.
Why do we tell such tales of hardship and bravery, honesty and reflection?
Because in the darkness between the stars, there are no heroes. There are only regular people who step up.
Content warnings: Swearing (‘Nowhere to Nowhere’); some sexual references (‘Tinker’s Toxin’, ‘Nowhere to Nowhere’, ‘The Rapture of Baatoon Hayes’); implied paedophilia (‘The Rapture of Baatoon Hayes’); death (‘Tinker’s Toxin’, ‘John Davis at War’, ‘Awakening’)
What I Thought:
First of all, I really liked the message in the Introduction about how these stories are about ordinary ‘heroes’. And it’s true – these short stories aren’t focused on Chosen Ones or superpowered beings. We follow regular folk as they confront and adapt to irregular situations, and here they truly run the gamut. No two stories were the same!
‘Life in the Universe’ by Dale E. McClenning
Strangeness got people hurt, dull and boring got you home in one piece.Intriguing, with a strong character voice. There was an odd paragraph singling out what read as a non-binary coded character in a way that almost read like the narrator thought being NB was…a negative trait? It all just felt a little unnecessary and like a convoluted attempt to be more inclusive. That aside, this story had a great plot and sense of growing tension (I liked the Central Hutch!).
‘The Coward and the Thief in Paradise’ by Gary Girod
Silas was the only one who ever achieved anything close to Enlightenment. His soul was beyond the fence, what I saw was just his body trying to meet with it.This dystopian story set in a cult-like compound was really absorbing with a nice twist. I was already expecting to like it because of how much I enjoyed Girod’s novel ‘The Maiden Voyage of New York City’. I was a little confused at the end regarding who was speaking (and whether it had anything to do with the power to communicate with spirits), or whether it was just a typo.
‘Tinker’s Toxin’ by Stephen B. Pearl
Tinkers can, oh tinkers can. Wandering the roads.This was one of my favourites! I really liked the gritty dystopian atmosphere, religious mix and the social commentary on the environmental crimes that are happening in today’s world. A compelling plot and likeable characters, and I’ll have to check out Pearl’s other Tinker stories.
A lethal shot. A healing hand. An Engineer that roams.
‘Untitled’ by J.R. Dwornik
Just because I do not always say what I see does not mean I am blind to that which is obvious.It was nice to see Lyle again! He’s a character I met previously in other Elderra novels by Catherine Fitzsimmons. There was dynamic dialogue with the demigod character Nadia – who I’m very intrigued by (what’s her heritage, is she really a deity?) – though I felt like the climax resolved rather quickly and neatly.
‘Nowhere to Nowhere’ by Hugh A.D. Spencer
“What are we watching?”The plotline was jumbled and confusing though I believe this was the author’s intent (see the rather meta quote above!). The character voice was funny and distinct and everything felt quite jokey and surreal. Definitely not a PG story!
“Some kind of independent science fiction film.”
“Does it make any sense to you?”
‘Other London: Ella’s Birthday’ by Erynn Q
It was 1976 when a large hole opened in the sky over earth. The people of Earth didn’t have to wonder what it was for long, because soon enough, Earth made contact with the world on the other side. It was lucky for Earth that this wasn’t the first time this world had made interdimensional contact before, and in fact, there was a whole community of other worlds known as the Grand Narrative completely willing to invite Earth into its ranks.Nice world-building, with a distinctly whimsical flavour. The plot wasn’t especially exciting (except for the mystery of the moustachioed man) but it was witty and sweet, and has me intrigued by the ‘Other London Volume 1’ novel.
‘John Davis at War’ by David Rae
“This whole war is pointless.”This was a vast change in tone from the previous story! It was really atmospheric and quite sad. The captain may be more than he appears, and I like that the open ending allows imagination of what could be beyond the last word. I’m still confused about John Davis’ hand though!
“All wars are pointless,” said the captain.
“When will it stop?”
“Never,” said the captain.
‘The Rapture of Baatoon Hayes’ by J.D. DeLuzio
Mother Goose turned up, now and then, for festivals. And Old Santy, who turned up at Midwinter. Some people say now she’s the Great Mother and he’s her Consort.This was my other favourite in this collection! I really liked the pluralistic religion and the protagonist who seems to be asexual/aromantic coded. The plotline took a highly unexpected turn that completely blindsided me, but in a good way. I’m still not sure who/what are the Special Folk exactly…
‘Falling Feathers’ by Catherine Fitzsimmons
“Even if you had never done anything wrong, there will always be people who hate you. You can’t focus on them. What’s important is that you be the best person you can be.”It was really nice to learn more about Liam, a character from Fitzsimmons’ other Elderra novels. He wasn’t particularly interesting in the books – he’s non POV but he still does feature heavily – but here he’s turned into one of the more interesting characters in the series. Actually, I wasn’t even expecting this story to be about Liam. Based on the Introduction, I thought it would be about Nephrita!
‘Awakening’ by Simon A.G. Spencer
Kyril had loomed over them all since before he was born, stories of its possibilities on the tongues of every adult. The supposed perfect planet, a potential mirror to Earth that might support human beings.This space journey story with generational crews had great exposition and unexpected twists. I liked the characters and the importance of family was a nice touching note to end on.
Overall, this was a diverting collection of imaginative stories across a range of genres. And I really do love that cover!
Thank you to Brain Lag Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.