Jacob and I went to LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN this June! (This article is WAY LATE because life.) Anyway, LibertyCon is notable for being more reader- and author-oriented than other conventions in the area…which means that I ended up coming home with approximately 90,000 books to read and likely review.
I am already exhausted just thinking about that. (Since this article is late: still exhausted.)
First on my pile was Baker’s Dozen: 13 Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories by Scott W. Baker.
First off, the cover does this book a real disservice. I love its visual pun, but nothing about a carton of a dozen plus one eggs screams sci-fi, and had I not encountered the author at a signing, I’m pretty sure I might never have picked it up.
I’m glad I did, though, because it’s a fun sampler platter of short stories. Baker divides the anthology into Space Opera, Urban Fantasy, Near Future SF, and Zombies. The best stories are found later in the book, but overall it was worth the $8 print cost.
Admittedly, I was a little underwhelmed by several of the early stories. While the point of a short story is, of course, to be short, a lot of the early entries in this anthology feel too short. Either they end just when they feel like they’re getting started, or the end brings a dark, abrupt twist that makes the story feel abbreviated.
Really, though, this complaint stems from the fact that I wanted to see more of each featured world. “Chasers,” a space opera about pilots who race to refuel spaceships, had the potential to be one of my favorites and could have expanded into a great action drama, but succumbed to one of the aforementioned dark, abrupt endings. “Ten Seconds,” a contemporary fantasy about a bullied child who can see ten seconds into the future, was another that, while ending happily, also ended just as I was getting excited to continue it.
When your main complaint about an author’s writing is that you want more of it, though, it’s not a bad thing.
In this anthology, Baker is at his best when he’s writing quirky humor or putting fantastic spins on modern settings. “Faerie Belches,” about a child who, well, hears fairies belch, is a fun read with some interesting twists. (Given the stories’ similarities, I pictured the characters from “Ten Seconds” and “Faerie Belches” belonging to the same universe and kind of hope that the author will turn this into a complete children’s novel.) “Excuse Me,” about a man who travels back in time every time he farts, is amusing for its concept alone, while “ZFL” is a hilarious look at a zombie football game from the perspective of its commentators.
There’s intriguing drama in many of the late stories, too, though, and I think a lot of these could support complete novels as well. “Secondhand Rush” was a particular favorite; it follows a man who performs daring, even foolish stunts, all for the purpose of selling the digitized memory of performing them to disembodied human minds stored in computers, which is straight up cool even before you consider that the man suffers Multiple Sclerosis (and all the conflicts that implies). “Thinking Out Loud” is an intriguing multi-point-of-view look at a psychic experiment being performed on prisoners; “How Quickly We Forget” is a haunting look at the actions of a memory-removal technology company; and “Call Me Z,” while humorous in places, is largely a look at what happens when a zombie fanboy (in a world where zombies can be domesticated) encounters his first zombies.
The contents of Baker’s Dozen may be too short for my taste, but the volume’s best stories and the sheer variety of material included make it worth a try. Recommended!