Clayton (In the Shape of a Man, 2013) delivers 14 sci-fi tales.
These eclectic stories feature many of the political riffs and future-shock themes found throughout classic sci-fi; they’re also loaded with enough tragic irony to satisfy die-hard Twilight Zone fans. Some of the best include “Dog Man,” about Steve “Cap” Crowley and the other residents of Penn’s Village Nursing Home, plagued by a cat with a sense for who will die next; “Day, or Two, of The Dead,” in which benign zombies visit from another dimension to bond with loved ones (or failing that, annoy former acquaintances); and “A Working Man,” which reveals a future not unlike that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where frequent, pointless hookups are the norm—until a rugged loner teaches the lovely Lenina what “gentleman” means. For the grandly comedic finale, “2038: San Francisco Sojourn; The Wrath of God” features Christ returning to find the law-abiding (and prescription-medicated) populace infantilized by left-wing policies run amok. Everyone must wear safety helmets at all times, and fast food meals come with condoms. Disgusted, Christ begins incinerating transgressors, only to be outdone by rapping, nuke-obsessed North Korean President Kim Young Moon. Elsewhere, author Clayton lovingly hints at his influences in clever, poignant stories. “Remembering Mandy” offers shades of Philip K. Dick, as Henley, last survivor of World War III, prepares to sell the memories of his wife to a corporation in exchange for eternal youth. Clayton’s cybernetic humans, enfeebled outcasts and future societies parade maniacally from his fertile imagination; Henley, for example, has “an auto-heart, Mylar veins, sponge lungs and a CPU-driven spleen and kidney.” Shorter tales, like “The Triumph,” “The Thing in the Box” and “About Our Cats,” are stunningly compact, envisioning fascinating scenarios readers will want to explore further. Overall, a cutting wit drives commentary on everything from race and religion to father-son relationships and the elderly. One too many portrayals of young people as texting-happy dolts, however, might date this volume in years to come.
Hot, glowing sci-fi nuggets.