This Giant Leap (Falstaff Books)
by Edmund R. Schubert
We at A&A love to review small press short story collections and anthologies, so when we discovered that former IGMS editor Edmund R. Schubert was making the leap to be a full-time writer, we jumped at the chance to read this one. As John Hartness says in the introduction, “It’s about reaching into a reader’s chest and grabbing hold of their still-beating heart and making them feel something. It’s about telling a story.” And this book does all that and more.
The collection opens with the profoundly disturbing “Mean-Spirited,” which suggests that people get exactly what they deserve in the afterlife, and then some. Wow; karma.
In the title story, “This Giant Leap,” aliens find what looks more and more like our lunar rover and the remnants of one of our 1969 to 1972 missions to our own moon. What they find, and their conclusions, are both correct and somehow wrong.
“Tangible Progress” is all about an Appalachian people under a curse for millennia, who cannot become solid except at certain times of the year. They have a rule to avoid regular people, but Gabrielle violates that law to save a boy lost in a cave (the story is placed in the early 1900s in rural Luray, VA). Then she finds out why there is such a restriction.
The title of “A Hint of Fresh Peaches” references one of the lingering sensory after-impressions of anyone using an alien machine to revive a dead person. Helena is one of only 37 people in the world who can master this device. Governments charge exorbitant fees for the rich to have access, but she’ll do a free resurrection if they’re not looking. And the only person she’s not had a success reviving was her own daughter. The guilt from this failure eats her alive until a surprise and unauthorized client needs her help…
I really loved “Breakout” and it’s my favorite story in the collection. It takes place in a prison, but is not the sort of breakout told about in, say, The Shawshank Redemption. Not hardly. Well done, Ed!
Wow, the next story in the collection—“The Last HammerSong”—is harsh. It’s about a young, thoughtful alien female’s coming-of-age ceremony, which the girl thinks is not only horribly cruel but wrong, her mother’s insistence on her following through with it, and how her daughter handles things, but her way.
“A Little Trouble Dying” is actually about a lot of trouble dying. The character even stops aging and has no idea why. When death finally comes for him the man makes the strangest “deal with the devil” sort of arrangement with The Grim Reaper you can possibly imagine. In its own way, it’s even odder than when Bill & Ted challenged Death to a game of Twister.
The next story was wild. “For The Bible Tells Me So” is set on a generation ship that’s been wrecked and gone off course. It’s told from the viewpoint of a person who’d been in suspended animation for hundreds of years when they thought they’d found everyone after The Wrecking and woken them up literally ages ago. He walks into power plays and many of them have to do with religious interpretations. My only quibble with the story is in his afterword, which made me wonder if Ed knows any actual “Evangelicals” or had just has been told what we supposedly believe. He sure was not describing the Evangelicalism I’ve lived with all my life… so maybe we’ll talk about it at a future convention.
“Lair of the Ice Rat” was fun. It’s set in Siberia, where some escaped prisoners meet some creatures out of the age of the woolly mammoth. (No, not rodents of unusual size.) It gets dangerous, and extremely complicated.
I’d read “Batting Out of Order” before, when I reviewed the anthology it was published in: Temporally Out of Order. I liked it then and enjoyed rereading it. Like many of the stories in this collection it deals wonderfully with the themes of family, love, and occasional sacrifice. However, I can’t help it if I don’t like zombie stories, period; and “Feels Like Justice to Me” was no exception. Add a star if you like that sort of thing, but I can never suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy zombie fiction. Still, in a way, this was also about family. Just not in the way I was expecting.
One of the neat things about this book is that the author gives you an afterword to each story, with a window into his creative process. Schubert says he especially likes stories that have a good setup but then end in ways the reader does not foresee: the “inevitable surprise.” That’s my favorite kind of story as well.