STRANGERS AMONG US by Susan  Forest

STRANGERS AMONG US

Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An anthology of speculative fiction through the lens of mental illness—stories of people whose mental quirks make them “outcasts and underdogs,” edited by Forest (Immunity to Strange Tales, 2012) and Law (Sword and Sorceress X, 1993).

The collection walks a difficult line, as the characters ostensibly all display some form of mental illness. Ostensibly—for in stories such as “The Culling,” by Kelley Armstrong, our protagonist reads as neurotypical save for the occasional mention of "hearing voices," but these voices aren't differentiated from your average internal narrative. Similarly, the lead of Rich Larson's “Carnivores” (an excellent story, otherwise) seems perfectly mentally healthy in a world of futuristic cruelty. James Alan Gardner's charming “The Dog and the Sleepwalker” also follows a man defined by superb common sense. If there is mental illness here, it lies with the twisted societies surrounding our heroes. Perhaps that's the point? Other stories present heroes whose mental illnesses really aren’t—the fanciful things they see turn out to be actually there, as in A.M. Dellamonica's rich “Tribes” and Sherry Peters' “Troubles,” which portrays a girl who's really a druid capable of seeing the fey rather than schizophrenic. These stories dodge the issue in a disingenuous fashion: certainly it's more uplifting to be a destined hero than delusional, but is this really mental illness? However, other stories do a masterful job of knitting legitimate and painful mental illnesses to characters who still retain agency and power: two standouts are Amanda Sun's “What Harm,” a poignant exploration of autism in a fairy-tale setting, and Hayden Trenholm's “Marion's War,” examining PTSD and the mental cost of war.

There are several excellent stories here—and they'd be stronger if divorced from the burden of living up to the anthology's theme.

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-993-96964-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Laksa Media
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2016




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