Divergent characters find themselves in startling situations in this debut collection of unconventional sci-fi and fantasy stories.
There is no guiding principle running through these tales save that they all look beyond the world as readers discern it, challenging—as the best speculative fiction does—a number of preconceived notions. Some might think that the relatable would be difficult to discover in a story about a lonely robot raising orphaned dinosaurs or two friends becoming cut off from each other by the untimely, unexpected closing of doors between worlds, but that dismissal would be premature. While each tale asks readers to forget what they know of the cosmos, identity, gender, or the ordinary, that request comes not in order to fill their minds with convoluted new concepts but rather to twist basic facts into inventive shapes. Someone accidentally cursed to be reborn as a rose sheds light on the symbols readers choose for their affections and how they value them. A non–fairy tale about a girl and a monster she once knew gives readers the ability to overturn the scripts of their own lives and realize who they—and their friends—truly are, however they might be judged. A shadow cast from inside a black hole peels away layers of loss and grief. And “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps,” centered on longing, tells a surprising, touching tale about those who fail to fit in and how they can carve out spaces of their own. There’s a tremendous variety in these stories: long and short, happy and sad, taking twists and turns or running in blazing straight lines. But what they all have in common is a sense of wonder (“The moment I knew I could love this robot was when the robot asked what I would like to be called. ‘Tesla,’ I said, and the blue LED smiley face in the upper corner of the robot’s screen flickered in a shy smile”). There is a strange power in the realms beyond this universe or hidden in plain sight, and Rustad captures it from myriad angles. The circumstances may be bizarre, but the characters are blindingly real, and it’s only through that combination that these pieces can cut so unflinchingly to the heart.
A sparkling sequence of tales that bends and flips familiar ideas and fantastic visions.