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D.’s debut collection of three SF-flavored tales highlights mermaids, robots, and dystopian worlds.

In the opening title story, Mu, a beautiful woman in Beijing, is accustomed to men hitting on her. Ladi He seems like all the rest, but after taking her to his place, he proves he knows a good deal about Mu’s past and active presence on social media. He asks her to take part in his experiment, in which Ladi introduces Mu to a virtual world he calls Planet Muladi. It seems to be utopian, though it’s not without glitches. But it may be preferable to the real world, where Mu is planning a grim “rebellion.” The titular character of “Nerissa” is a mermaid­­—an invention of the late 23rd century. She lives in a glass tank until she’s 16, when she finally swims in the sea and meets merman Lynn. She reveres the world above, where there’s sunlight, but Nerissa soon learns that humanity may be harboring a terrible secret. In “Bobo,” Steven Sheng is a transfer student from Hangzhou, China, attending school in Texas. He endures racist bullies who, among other things, mock his limited English. Fortunately, he finds a friend­—a reassuring voice from within whose origin is not exactly clear. Throughout the collection, cast members are all well delineated and sympathetic; even Mu, who’s unmistakably narcissistic, is hiding the pain of a fractured family and relationship. The book’s view on humanity is otherwise dim, with an Earth primarily populated by the selfish and mean. But the stories champion a theme of encouragement, underscored by Ladi’s refrain: “The future is whatever you choose to believe.” Overall, these short tales retain a sense of mystery, and each boasts an ending open to interpretation. Correspondingly, debut illustrator Ding’s striking black-and-white images are delightfully ambiguous, providing a few characters with indistinctive facial features.

Audacious stories readers will consume quickly but won’t easily forget.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-68925-148-8
Page count: 189pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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