In two novellas, Pryce (Unnatural Selection, 2012) depicts a reluctant human soldier marooned during an interplanetary war and a recovering addict abducted by members of a bizarre alien species.
The first novella, War Torn, is combat-oriented sci-fi with a soft center. It describes a future conflict between earthlings and the Phraaks, a vaguely birdlike extraterrestrial race, which began as a minor trade dispute but has turned into the military-industrial-social linchpin of human society. Medic Nathan Bhat enlisted for revenge after his wife died in a Phraak attack. Now he regrets it, as he’s the one non–hard-ass in a squad of genetically enhanced soldiers conditioned to react with directed violence. The squad gets shot down on a mystery world, where they’re pursued by a Phraak warship full of troops. Bhat is the only human with enough of his wits about him to perceive that the planet itself responds lethally to any display of belligerence. The second novella, Bad Trip, features a recovering heroin addict, Sarah, who’s married to the man who saved her from suicide, New York City cop Ryan. After a suicide attempt, Sarah is mysteriously teleported to the ghastly feeding grounds of aliens in another solar system, where she witnesses them using assorted humanoid species as livestock. As Ryan tries to figure out clues to her whereabouts, Sarah fights the narcotic that keeps her and the other captives docile. It would have been fabulous if these two novellas were printed back-to-back in the tradition of the cherished Ace Double sci-fi paperbacks of yesteryear, for both yarns merit attention from that genre’s followers. (The collection also includes two other, minor pieces: a short story billed as a preview of a future property and a self-promoting gag done for a flash-fiction contest.) Pryce’s considerable talents of description, characterization, and pacing, previously showcased in Unnatural Selection, burnish this collection. Both of the novellas’ stories might have been obvious and leaden in lesser hands, but Pryce keeps the jolts and twists neatly on target in both. That said, a few of the author’s choices of pop-culture references and phrases (such as “tippy toes”) seem odd in such nightmarish circumstances.
A strong sci-fi double bill from a talented new writer.