REVIEW: “All Electric Ghosts” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “All Electric Ghosts”, Clarkesworld Issue 157, October (2019): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Right off the bat, the world building is detailed and intense. Benny is a man in grief, taking the help of whatever he can to help him survive his loss. There is mention of drug usage, but in a very matter of fact way, which lent yet another nuance to the story. Make no mistake, this is a very nuanced story already. In fact, it feels like the beginning of a much larger story. I would definitely like to read the larger work this seems to be a part of.

Benny gets involved with some aliens, and he quickly forms a bond with them, because they’re the best way he has found to deal with his grief and survive in a better way. He needs them for his next hit, and they need him for vaguely nefarious purposes. Along the way, he finds a tenuous friendship, which hints at the possibility of it turning into a stronger one.

This story will leave you wanting more.

REVIEW: “There Used to be Olive Trees” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “There Used to be Olive Trees”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 225-247 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: minor spoilers.

Valentin is one of the Town’s two prophets, fitted with an implant so that he can talk to the gods. The only problem is: He can’t. Three times he has tried, and three times he has failed, when no one else has ever required more than two times. Once more he will be given the opportunity to try — but “anything was better” (p. 224) than trying and failing again, so the story opens with Valentin scaling the wall that separates the Town from outside, where the wilders are.

Once Valentin gets over the wall, the story goes pretty much as one would expect: He meets someone, and runs into difficulties, he must do what that someone requires of him before he can claim his freedom, and eventually, out in the wilds beyond the Town he learns how to finally speak so that the gods will listen. But by this time, he no longer has any desire to return to the Town to be their prophet; instead, he and Pepe are striking out on their own.

Nothing was especially surprising about the story, but there were little bits that I really appreciated. The tech was novel, and exceedingly believable (can I have my own nanoshadow, plz kthanx?); and there was a poignancy to the story that left it ending on a hopeful, rather than sour, note.

(Originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2017).

REVIEW: “Dark Warm Heart” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “Dark Warm Heart”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 239—255. Purchase Here. Originally published at Tor.com on April 12, 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis

As others frequently note, one of the joys of reading anthologies is discovering authors you haven’t come across before. Rich Larson has an incredibly impressive publications list for someone who’s been writing for less than ten years, but I haven’t (I don’t think) read anything by him before. Dark Warm Heart is a wonderful story and a great introduction. It’s a wendigo tale: Kristine’s ‘s husband Noel has returned from fieldwork in the far north of Canada having been caught in a bad snowstorm and miraculously survived. But he has little appetite and is obsessed with transcribing the interviews he’s conducted with the Inuit to learn more of their folklore. He does seem quite keen on nibbling on Kristine, though.

The story is well-written with great pacing, and the ending was pleasantly surprising. I’m not overly familiar with wendigo folklore or wendigo psychosis (though I’ve read a bit about it now) — for those with more knowledge the tale might be a bit predictable but it wasn’t for me. The most chilling part was the translation of the wendigo folk tale; only a short paragraph, a series of short statements like a song or poem, but with a real sense of menace. Very enjoyable.

REVIEW: “Fifteen Minutes Hate” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “Fifteen Minutes Hate”, Apex Magazine 108 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It’s a common set-up: somebody wakes up with the mother of all hangovers and no memory of the previous night, and tries to piece together what happened. “Fifteen Minutes Hate” gives us a vicious social media twist on that premise.

Our protagonist wakes up to find that she has been Blacklisted. Whatever she’s done has been broadcast to the world on some sort of social media feed and reality TV show. On top of that, it seems the the reality TV outlet has access to every message she’s sent, and every video that’s shown her face. The world is dissecting every instance of cruelty or selfishness in her life, a social media pile-on for the ages. The host of Blacklist is walking towards her house, on camera, taking bets on whether she’ll run or not. Her friends and family are texting to ask how she could do such a thing. Strangers are hoping someone will cut her hands off. And until the second to last paragraph, she (and by extension, we the readers) have no idea what she’s done.

The clips that people are dissecting and commenting on online – the events from her past, not the big thing she’s trying to remember – are the kinds of everyday cruelties and follies we all engage in. A video of her failing to help someone after they fell. A message to a friend in which she calls a hated professor by a cruel nickname. A video of a sex act that she regrets. These are normal things, ordinary indiscretions, now being used as evidence of her lack of humanity in light of the act that got her on the Blacklist.

My one complaint about this story is that I found the use of the second person point of view distracted me from the story, and I didn’t think it added anything. I suspect it was intended to promote empathy, helping us put ourselves into the main character’s situation, but the writing was strong enough to do that on its own. Still, this is an engaging, interesting read.

REVIEW: “Carnivores” by Rich Larson

Review of Rich Larson, “Carnivores”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2017): 239-256 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The restaurateur leaned forward. “You’re a survivor from the original batch, then? From the Bangkok biolabs?”

This story wears its Sci Fi badge with pride, announcing its genre in many different ways in the first few sentences. We have decaying engineering AIs, neural implants, Neanderthal hybrids, and autocabs before we finish the first page. Rather miraculously, these details don’t come across as info-dumping, nor as overwhelming.

Finch and Blake are planning a heist, of a restaurant “kitschy as fuck” (p. 241). The modus operandi involves getting Finch in under false pretenses — and prepared to make false promises. Once inside, what they find is more valuable, and more dangerous, than their wildest imaginings.

The story is visceral, it is tender, it is horrific, and it is sweet. It’s a mess of contradicting experiences, yet nevertheless all balancing each other. And for all of its darkness, it ends with hope. We always can do with a little more hope in our tales.

(Originally published in Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts 2016).