Review of “Outlaw Bodies” Anthology

Outlaw Bodies, edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad

If you are tired of science fiction stories whose main characters are technology — technology gone awry, or conversely, technology that acts as mankind’s savior — or if you are tired of stories about aliens who happen to look like creatures found on earth and happen to act like 20th or 21st century white North American men, or if you are tired of stories glorifying outer space wars or colonization of other planets whether populated or not, try Outlaw Bodies, a speculative fiction anthology edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad. You can find interesting technology in these stories, you can even find aliens, but the aliens are us, human beings, in all our diverse, imagined and transgressive body types. In this anthology, you will find babies born with strange anomalies, maybe frightening or maybe wonderful, bodies manufactured for their own pleasure or for the pleasure of others, forms that subjugate us and forms that liberate us. Like all good speculative fiction, the things we find in these stories will amaze us with their originality even as they act as mirrors to our present society. As might be expected in such an anthology, there are sad stories, optimistic stories, stories that please and stories that disturb or even offend. If there weren’t any of the latter, I would wonder if the anthology was daring enough to bear its name. In any case, we will also each have our favorite stories. Here are mine:

“Remaker” by Fabio Fernandes is at the top of my list. This is a Borgian story that has it all, at least for a reader of my tastes: cyberpunk, cool musical and literary references, a sympathetic main character with roots in our contemporary reality, AI’s, the social media, a non-North American setting, meta-fiction and meta-gender. As I read the story, I found myself repeating the word “resonates” over and over again in my head and wondering if I could possibly have met the author in another life. What a clever and satisfying read!

“Winds: NW 20 km/hr” was another great story, this one about physical differences, fear and unqualified love. The emotions and behaviors of the first-time parents in this tale rang very true, as did the description of pregnancy and childbirth. This is the story in the anthology that best communicated the potential magic and pure wonder of difference.

In “Frankenstein Unraveled” written by Lori Selke, one of the co-editors, we get a story that is at once a satire of the U.S. healthcare system and Frankenstein fan fiction. It is relevant, clever, important and very funny. What impressed me most was how Selke managed to get me to feel a real sadness and sympathy for the Frankenstein monster character even while knowing that he is simply a device for the satire.

I encourage anyone with a taste for speculative fiction or social commentary or who is just looking for an interesting read to buy this anthology.

You can link to this review on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R31CSJ9LQVDDWR

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Review of “The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo

“The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo

This is a well-crafted story that is grittily realistic and moving. The author manages to build a world with a few well-drawn strokes. Likewise, the reader is provided with enough well-chosen details to easily imagine each scene but not so much as to interfere with the spare style that works so well with the mood and setting.

It’s a familiar set-up — a story within a story, with the inner tale earned by the protagonist’s actions or promised service. Through this device, we get to know both the protagonist and the storyteller. The relationship between the two of them, strained at first, becomes closer as understanding grows. The reader feels mixed about this. We’re satisfied to see the triumph of empathy between two so different characters, but we sense already that the storyteller is doomed.

The ending comes as no surprise, but this does not detract. There are enough original ideas to make the story fresh, and the predictable ending is partially a factor of how all the pieces of the story fit together. There is a circularity to the beginning and end of the tale which is very satisfying. Even the title is exactly right and adds to the story’s depth.

I generally don’t like sad endings but the sadness was offset by the warmth I felt from the demonstration that love still has a power that can’t be extinguished even in the most desperate of situations. This added an element of hope and triumph to what is otherwise a very dark tale. All in all,  “The Finite Canvas” is a powerful and well-executed piece that uses just the right amount of space and colour.

You can read the story here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/12/the-finite-canvas