Phantaxis, James Edward O’Brien, editor (2016)
These short stories of fantasy and science fiction reach across a broad and enjoyable spectrum. From a police detective in Victorian England looking for a supernatural murderer for to a bodiless head trying to survive in the far future, there’s something in here for everyone.
Frostfire – In Victorian England, a gifted police detective enlists the aid of a young washerwoman witch to stop a chain of supernatural murders. Lengthy but strangely contemporary.
Countdown to Extinction – Three scientists are surprised when their experiments to increase learning in animals results in them being caged by their subjects. Cyborg animals wage war on humanity, considering them a blight on the planet Earth. An environmental tale of man’s inhumanity to his planet.
Deviations – Time travelers attempt to repair changes in the timeline caused by an earlier experiment, but it may be all for naught if they can’t decide if Mona Lisa is smiling or not. Clever and short, I particularly liked the “Odd Couple” time agents.
Lost Souls – A cop interrogates tough guys about illegal drugs at a local gym when the manager/ringleader crashes in to do battle. Trouble is the thugs are demons and the cop is a fallen angel. Interesting interpretation of cops and robbers.
I want to mention the clever inserts between stories: news articles, ads, etc. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was very interesting and a nice way to cleanse the palate between stories.
Finding Purpose – A human graduate in a world where an AI runs everything gets recruited to help defend it against AIs from outside the galaxy. Earth Needs Brains!
Seasons Greetings – An intriguing twist on the deal with a devil trope. A writer gets a visit from Santa/Satan who offers the writer his wildest dreams in exchange for his soul. Initially interested, the writer realizes he must be unhappy to write authentically. Nicely written and very visual.
Bitter Pill – A handicapped miner administers The Zap, a painful process to help asteroid inhabitants maintain their bone density in weightless conditions. A message on how Big Business lies to us?
Wake Up, Mr. Chen – After a terrible accident, a dead scientist is resurrected using his own technology. Unfortunately, his company had him cloned while he was away and now he’s redundant to his family and his company.
Damsel in Distress – An aging knight who’s lost his lands and his lady goes on a quest, possibly his last, when he overhears of a damsel in distress in the wastelands. He meets friendly folks and a daunting castle, but unfortunately, his bad hearing has mislead him, and his quest proves pointless. A very well-written tale and the only one by a woman in this anthology.
Circling the Brain – Possibly the best tale in the anthology. A weird premise, a disease that causes parts of the body to waste away on a distant colony planet, leaving only the head in a nutrient bath, turns into a mystery and a tale of survival. The head, told in first person, is unplugged, used as a soccer ball, has his wife leave him, is taken in by a family, and finally left to die in a cave. An extremely exciting tale with a very unlikable hero. I couldn’t stop reading it.