Walls and Wonders
by S. R. Algernon (ReAnimus Press)
ReAnimus Press is a small press publisher that brings back great books whose rights have reverted to authors. S.R. Algernon’s short story collection is divided into four parts: Calling Out, Breaking Through, Tearing Down, and To Build Anew. I’ll only review part of the beginning, but trust me: there is not a bad one in the lot, and ReAnimus Press has done us all a favor bringing these stories back to light.
Part I: Calling Out
“In Cygnus and in Hell” tells the story of a guy who was “jilted at the airlock” and is stuck on Titan. Will he choose to go on a generation ship? The thought behind his decision are profound and prosaic, poetic yet wry.
In the story, “Oubliette,” I saw one of the best unreliable narrator stories I’d ever read. High City was taken in battle by the lowlands, but a chemical that pretty much destroys long-term memories was let loose inside, and the contamination could not be stopped, only contained. It became a prison. Is the protagonist a scientist studying the High City, and inmate, or one of the original inhabitants? Her memories are…unreliable, incomplete. It makes for a great mystery. “The city is like a scaffold for our memories, or a plaster cast. It lets us rearrange them and reexamine them, without our past getting in the way.” Oh, and then there’s that simply unforgettable conclusion. You want to read this one, trust me. Thank God it’s back in print.
Next, “Witness” tells the tale of Andrew and Cassie. Andrew is part of the thought police. They use a vision given by an alien to an astronaut to keep world peace, a vision that is delivered via a brain stimulator called a tickler. Anyone not using the vision is considered a terrorist, and since the world now lives in a surveillance state it’s pretty well enforced. But Cassie sees something wrong with the vision, and risks her freedom and Andrew’s to show him. When Andrew’s rival-in-love Grissom catches Andrew using illegal tech at Cassie’s place, the world is about to be changed…by the power of myth.
In “Sort-of Damocles” you learn that in space, the sword of Damocles—in the person of a race called the Scourge—takes a long time to fall. And if you can use time travel and wisdom, maybe it will not fall at all.
The “Affirmations” of the title in the next story are things you tell your robotic protectors. In this tale, AI-run gates, booths and checkpoints that were once meant to stop terrorism and violence had slowly become prisons. The perils of giving up your humanity in exchange for security seems to be a theme in this book, and this story showcases the dangers (and possible solution) nicely.
Heartbreaking and hopeful, “The Meme Hunter” is a tale of a father hoping to find his daughter through the multiverses, using the only thing that he could find that was uniquely hers to draw her to the door of his universe, hoping for a version of her that might still be alive. What he ends up using is his failings. A very human tale.
Part II: Breaking Through, starts with “Asymmetrical Warfare.” Imagine a race of starfish-based sentient warriors that are confused when they cannot regenerate humans from an arm or a leg. It’s the blindness of assuming “aliens will be like us,” but seen from another species POV.
I found “Once More, Onto the Beach” a little more difficult, as it was entirely in an alien viewpoint, but it was interesting. Then “On Main Street, after Closing Time” tells what was basically, to me, a horror story: where a human town is the captive plaything and study of some very alien beings, and a child has to make sense of it all. Creepy as hell. On the other hand “Election Day” started out with what sounded like the hopeful idea that you end up in the part of the multiverse you voted for. In a way, thought Mortimer, it was like a rocket launch. It was an emigration—the most recent in a four hundred year tradition—from the country we had to the country we deserved. But beware the law of unintended consequences.
I heartily recommend this collection.
– Wendy S. Delmater