A collection of grim morality tales with a sci-fi bent from Mebane (Ruins of the Fall: Tree of Might,2016).
In this book’s foreword, the author enthusiastically warns readers that his stories feature plenty of violence and that he’s helpfully ordered them from lightest to darkest, taking into account “how many characters are killed and/or assaulted” in each. The tales themselves are very short and rely on gratuitous brutality or gross-out moments to make their points; they also usually contain a twist on some aspect of modern or near-future life. The opener, “The Girlfriend,” sees a man betrayed by his animatronic sex doll, who explains that, as a robot, she has no notions of human monogamy. “The Protector” features a person in a post-apocalyptic world who questions the authority of his society’s robot overlord before being taught the dangers of free will and knowledge. “Musings of a Garden” considers the perspectives of flowers, bees, trees, and the grass as a human tends her garden; the bees are seduced by flowers, the grass screams when it’s cut, and the gardener is a wrathful, godlike figure. “The Flower” concerns a young girl who’s entranced by what initially seems like a magical new house. “The Disease” and “The Apartment” both deal with modern-day vampires who work to keep balance in the world by draining people’s blood. The stories’ tone of cynicism regarding the contemporary world is well-developed throughout, as many characters or entities try to save humanity from itself. But although the questions that the stories raise about the nature of free will are intriguing, they focus less on plumbing these depths than they do on shocking readers. The hastily sketched characters seem like props to advance whatever moral happens to be at hand, and the prose and dialogue are often stilted. The collection’s formulaic structure also grows tiresome, as readers merely wait for another taboo to be breached instead of having their assumptions about the world challenged.
Stories that attempt to shock readers at every turn, dulling whatever messages they might have to offer.