THE SCI-FI STORY WITH THE CAT IN IT by Melissa Fondakowski


Short Stories
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In this collection of four stories set in dystopian worlds, people endure diseases and furtive government control.

Although the tales in this volume don’t all take place in the same world or time, there are similarities among them. In the opening story, “The Sight Mask,” it’s been three-quarters of a century since the epidemic The Eye Death surfaced. People were suddenly going blind and dying a few months later. Fortunately, Dr. Ayumi Amador created Sight Masks that protected the populace and eventually became everyone’s sole technical device. But Amador, who’s spent her life searching for a cure with no success, soon learns a telling secret about the Governing Council. The subsequent two tales, “Two Schools” and “Two Roads,” are companion pieces. In their shared world, global legislation has banned the written word, and people communicate via speech, videos, and pictures. Governments believed writings, primarily on “the Network,” were rife with mendacity and ultimately precipitated confrontation and mass murder. But viruses have split people into two groups: water-level and air-level. The former has access to superior tech, but water folk are immune to the viruses that plague air folk. “The Lottery”—the longest story and the one starring the cat—is the tale of a future America, now a Republic, and its popular television show The Lottery. Citizens have a chance to win $100 million, at first annually but eventually on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this reputed utopian nation, free of crime and unemployment, has an unsavory underbelly involving more than just the feline-transmitted Epsilon-A virus.

Fondakowski (Out, 2017, etc.) simplifies her futuristic stories with minimal characters and concise histories of her worlds. Two tales have plot turns that, while dramatically sound, are predictable. But the author truly excels at shaping each story’s dystopia through marked characterization. “The Sight Mask,” for example, begins with a mother whose newborn may already be doomed, as a nurse is unable to affix a mask on the infant before she opens her eyes. The governments in “Schools” and “Roads” have vanquished sexism and homophobia by eliminating gender tags. But it seems discrimination still exists, with the water-level people a literal interpretation of the lower class. Fondakowski also uses nongender pronouns for every character in the two tales and deftly demonstrates other ways that players can have distinction (like the “smart-ass” student in “Schools”). This nevertheless makes the occasional slips into masculine or feminine pronouns in both stories glaringly apparent. “The Lottery” spotlights prospective winners as well as the show’s host, Carl Kent, who has a “crisis of conscience” when he becomes fed up with what the program is withholding from the audience. But the governing body, as in the other tales, seems on the verge of totalitarianism even if citizens are unaware. It’s a subtlety the author’s prose reflects, as her unadorned writing conveys complexities in straightforward terms. Carl’s immense popularity, for example, stems from various factors, including his delivery: “He was speaking from a low register, but not too low, and his voice was pure and crisp, not too treble.”

Short, futuristic tales bubbling with enticing characters and details.

Page count: 121pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019