Smashing Saturday Shorts (13)

Making Gods, by Tony Cooper

Summary: A collection of three short stories that will get under your skin. In ‘Lord of Shadow’, a small boy becoming emotionally detached from his parents finds solace in the darkness. In ‘Making Gods’ two linguistics experts find an awkward romance over ancient carvings. In ‘The Colours of Jupiter’ a group of scientists pursuing an experiment into the nature of time discover much more.

Thoughts: This collection has some woncderfully disturbing stories in it, stylistically engrossing with the kind of flowing tone that draws the reader right into the action.

Lord of Shadows features a young boy who’s going through the typical child-trauma of having a new sibling around, divided attention from parents, all that stuff. Only this child has a little bit extra to him, in that he’s got a connection to shadows. There’s nothing that clearly states whether he’s in direct control of the shadows or whether the shadows are sentient around him and able to do his bidding, but regardless, he accidentally turns this power against his new brother, causing him to vanish. His parents, naturally freaking out, decide to distance themselve from the boy, who reacts as any child would react to finding out his parents don’t want him.

He lashes out. And is ultimately taken to a place where nothing exists but himself and the shadows that have become his only companions. The story has a childlike tone that sharpens the already creepy edge of the story.

Making Gods is, I think, the weak point of the collection. It uses an idea that isn’t entirely unheard of: a finally-complete translation of an ancient summoning ritual actually summons an ancient deity. Part of the ritual involved the fact that it could really only be safely completed by the blind, but since the researcher who proudly spoke the incantation didn’t believe it was real, nor was she blind, the summoned deity enacts vengeance and tries to take the life of the summoner.

Interesting idea, certainly, but more of the story was taken up with the discussion of translating the invocation than running from a god bent on taking lives. I think the action-packed section could have benefitted from being fleshed out, lengthened, but instead ot felt like it was done in haste to get the story over.

That being said, the final paragraph was a heart-breaker. The first-person protagonist holding the hand of the woman he’s just figured out he loves as she dissolves in the face of the god, giving herself as a sacrifice. Touching, and well-phrased.

The Colours of Jupiter caps the collection with an interesting little tidbit of science fiction. Experimenting with time leads to the proof that time is non-linear, and that everything exists at all points in time at once, but our brains compensate by presenting us a linear perspective to follow because we can’t cope with the knowledge of everything existing everywhere and everywhen. (Admit it, it’s tough to wrap your mind around when you really get right down to it!)

A hypothetical discussion amongst the scientists about whether it’s possible for the brain to perceive it all in reverse, to in a sense be living backwards and seeing the lead-up to your actions after you’ve already seen the consequences, turns out to be disturbingly true for one man participating in the experiment, who’s been spending his time trying to figure out who he’s been existing in reverse like that, and who traces it back, ultimately, to the experiment in the first place. Do the experiment, have something unexpected happen, start perceiving all the time ‘after’ it as coming ‘before’, with no memory of what led up to you living backwards.

Yes, it’s a mind-fuck, and it’s a wonderful little trip into causality and time-travel that I haven’t seen explored in this fashion before. I loved the twists and turns the story took while still proceeding in an orderly and smooth fashion. Beautiful.

It seems like authors on Smashwords have been really hit-or-miss with me, as I find things at the extremes of the talent spectrum but rarely anything in the middle. This is an author to keep an eye on, I think, who’s got fresh ideas and a good style for exploring the “what if” questions that make up speculative fiction as a whole. Take 15 minutes to look over this collection and see if you agree.

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