It is both interesting and disconcerting to read an author seemingly influenced by the very books one read as a teenager and young adult. Or, perhaps, the author was influenced by reading books written by other authors who were influenced by the books one read as a teenager. Sometimes these recognitions of influence result in delight -- ‘that is a wonderful direction in which to take that idea’ or ‘that is a much neglected old friend that I am really glad to see revisited’ and sometimes they result in frustration as the reader believes they know from the first line where a familiar story is going. The reader may become impatient as the author introduces to a new audience a familiar story line or they may be surprised as the author decides to take that familiar story in a new direction.
The short story is itself a form that may short circuit golden opportunities or safeguard an author from making a particular bad stumble. The reader may be frustrated that they were given just a glimpse of a fascinating universe or relieved when a story they find uninspiring ends just before becoming tedious. At the same time a collection of short stories may give a reader a chance to explore the versatility of a newly discovered author. If the first story in the book does not delight the second may send the reader online to find out if the author has written anything else in the same vein.
The short stories in this collection range across a number of genres. Continuum Force - The New Guy, reads as if it is the first of many stories to be set in the same universe. It has a slightly Strossian feel and is an interesting variation on the by now overly-familiar ‘what happens if we go back in time and change something?’ story. Some of the more existential implications of the story are not explored but the author leaves open the possibility that there will be a return to that universe. Tawney’s Stars feels like a lineal descendent of an early Heinlein story with the twist that it modulates Heinlein’s underlying misogyny through objectification. The best audience for the story is probably quite a bit younger than this reviewer. Sequel is again a story set in a universe that the reviewer would welcome returning to. The wonderfully anti-Twilight and True Blood premise was a breath of fresh air to a reader who has read more than their fair share of overly “emo” stories about vampires. Gator Country is reminiscent of early King short stories and though the reader knew there was going to be a twist it wasn’t quite the twist expected. The story was short, sweet and with that moment of frisson that one looks forward to. Reality, like Sequel, is a venture into modern horror. The story is rather formulaic and ends just at the point where this reader thought it was really beginning to take off. Shockers starts off as if a tribute to Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House then transforms into another deconstruction of reality television and finally mutates again into a chillingly down-to-earth and matter-of-fact examination of the aftermath of a night of terror. The effect of reading this was, for this reviewer, much like reading a pianist running through variations on a theme--as if the author was demonstrating their skill at varying tone and pace. In Lucifer’s Lament De La Torre plays with an interesting idea though it feels as if it is the wrong length--that it would have packed more of a punch had it been half as long although it had enough ideas in it to be a novel. There are too many characters in this story for the reader to become emotionally invested in any one of them and the shifting of voice and point-of-view distance the audience. It would be interesting to see the author return to this story and rework it in a longer or shorter form. Killing Osama begins by playing into one set of stereotypes, finds an interesting way to insert the war on terror into the mix, undermines another set of stereotypes and ends with a nice twist. Until the End of Time opens strongly and once again departs from the expected denouement. Unfortunately the author has not yet developed an ability to convincingly vary his writing style to reflect the different time periods the reader glimpses. Rise of the Ancients - Alulim might read better if it were encountered earlier in this collection as the author returns to themes touched on in several previous stories. Once again the story is both too short and too long--long enough to introduce a large number of characters and too short to allow the reader to come to know them well. As is true in a number of the other stories the author does quite a bit of world building and ends the story in a way that suggests that more is to come.
In summary. This is a collection of stories that will probably best be appreciated by a reader younger, and less well acquainted with the various genres, than the reviewer. The author excels at beginnings and interesting premises but in general does less well at delivering on them. Two of the stories, Sequel and Gator Country, stand out as well conceived and well worth rereading and several of the stories brought back to the reviewer the fun they had reading when first exploring science fiction, science fantasy and horror.