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I Can Transform You by Maurice Broaddus

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

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I Can Transform You by Maurice Broaddus (Apex Publications, 2013) Apex Voices: Book 2 gives me pause for a slightly nonstandard reason. Some years ago, I ran my own small press. For reasons which need not concern us here, it was not a great success but, rightly or wrongly, I believed in the authors and their books. It would not have occurred to me to publish something that I thought poor or second-rate. I note with some degree of derision, the emergence of a new breed of small press publisher who sees crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo as removing the risk from their decision-making. Instead of backing their own judgement with their own money, they raise the necessary cash from future customers. This does not apply to Apex Publications. They have the confidence to put their own capital at risk. My apologies. I’m diverting from my theme. This collection of two stories from Maurice Broaddus contains a somewhat ironic pair of effusive panegyrics as to the author’s worth. Why ironic? Because the shorter piece is titled, “Pimp My Airship” and these two prefatory pages are implicitly titled, “Pimp My Author”.

Anyway, this excess takes nothing away from the actual quality of the two stories, the first of which is the longer “I Can Transform You”. We’re immediately pitched into a noir science fiction police procedural in which Mac Peterson, an on/off police detective is called in when his ex-partner has taken a dive off one of the tallest buildings in the neighbourhood. Like Icarus, she did not make a soft landing. Sadly, she’s one of a growing number of people who have taken their leave of the world by this extravagant swan-diving and no-one has been able to come up with a convincing explanation for this aberrant suicidal gesture. His boss, Hollander, introduces our hero to Detective Ade Walter who’s to take lead on this case. On top of the building, there are signs of a struggle and she has trace amounts of DNA under her nails suggesting defensive action on her part. This sets the plot in motion.

Maurice Broaddus

Maurice Broaddus

Mac is, of course, a man with a past. He was ousted from his role as a full-time detective because he busted a ring of paedophiles with connections to the rich and powerful. He’s retreated into the demimonde as a problem-solver or PI if you want to dignify what he does for cash to fuel his increasing dependence on the drug called Stim. Just about holding himself together, he sets off to ask questions of the “gang” of desperate homeless people who had connections to this latest “suicide”. As a piece of noir science fiction, it’s similar to Michael Shean’s Shadow of a Dead Star and the rather better Bone Wires. In this type of story, our hero finds himself forced to work outside the formalised law enforcement structure in a world suffering environmental damage to investigate the activities of a shadowy “organisation”. He may or may not be augmented or, as in Guy Haley’s Omega Point, he may have a cyborg as a friend. As a basic plot, it’s not very original. What saves this version to some extent is the quality of the characterisation. There’s some heft to the protagonist but, in comparison to Clean by Alex Hughes which also deals with a consultant to the police (he’s a telepath) struggling with addiction in a future noir dystopia, Broaddus is a little thin.

The shorter “Pimp My Airship” is a political steampunk allegory in which the American revolution failed and Britain retained control. The colony prospered by exploiting the free labour force and building on the backs of the slaves. The status quo of corruption and racism would have continued, filling the coffers of the British masters, but for the arrival of automation. Since machines, once deployed, are easier to manage than slaves, the newly redundant were ghettoised and left to their own devices (sic). Pacification through opium was the norm, with imprisonment for any who chose to speak out against the racial oppression. This story sees a very public blow being struck for the practical emancipation of the ex-slaves. It initially requires a group to be freed from imprisonment rather along the lines of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille. For this purpose, an airship is required. The Afronauts fly to their destiny and the appropriately named “Sleepy” must decide where his loyalties lie.

In the confines of a short story, it’s a challenge to develop beyond broad brush strokes. The problem with this particular vehicle for mirroring modern racial discrimination is the lack of an economic context. In contemporary America, the racially oppressed groups are maintained in a state of dependence with just enough earning capacity to sustain life, doing the work the racially advantaged consider beneath their dignity. In time, this will change as the better paid jobs dry up and the bare subsistence jobs are all that are left. But for now, the potential for revolution is lacking. The oppressed have been brainwashed into apathy, convinced they are powerless to effect change. In this story, there are no low paid jobs for the poor to fight over. They have been condemned to slum wastelands. So who feeds them and provides shelter from the elements? If automation replaces all the low-pay, no-pay jobs, the elite should be thinking in terms of eugenics and a final solution, rather than picking up a bill for charitable works and free opium for all (cf “This Peaceable Land” by Robert Charles Wilson).

I might have thought these two stories published as I Can Transform You rather better if the book had begun without the broadside of unrelenting praise. Having raised expectations with a concerted sales puff of epic proportions, the actual stories were almost bound to disappoint. In American terms, the politics underpinning both stories is probably quite edgy. In European terms, it’s superficial and unchallenging. Though the writing style is above average, the substance is lacking for a European reader like me. Perhaps American readers will find more grist.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Dark Faith: Invocations edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

January 8, 2013 2 comments

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Dark Faith: Invocations edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications, 2012) is a themed anthology looking at the phenomenon we call faith. As a word, it’s actually rather interesting. In its more literal sense, it refers to the constancy of a belief. The trust is so complete, the belief is held even though there’s no empirical evidence to verify it. So what gives rise to such confidence? The answer comes in the more connotational levels of meaning. Something must happen to create the trust. It starts as an intellectual process as the person learns about what others believe. This knowledge on its own is not enough. When the knowledge is absorbed, the person must decide to join the others in believing the knowledge to be true. The question, of course, is what persuades each person to become dogmatic in the belief? It’s a transformation of great significance, moving from intellectual understanding to a creed upon which to base future identity and behaviour. The point of this anthology, therefore, is for each author to offer a different view of this process for creating faith and understanding the limits of the faith, if any.

 

“Subletting God’s Head” by Tom Piccirilli has a nice sense of humour about what it would be like if you could move into God’s head as a tenant with Jesus just down the hall and the Garden of Eden on the third floor. In a relatively short piece, it challenges us to consider what our relationship would be with a deity as a landlord who knows our sins and has a track record of throwing tenants out of third-floor Gardens if they break the house rules. “The Cancer Catechism” by Jay Lake is a moving autobiographical piece translating his continuing experience as a cancer patient into an exploration of how it feels when the reality of death has to be confronted. “The Blue Peacock” by Nick Mamatas introduces us to the Yezidim. This is a Kurdish religion. It’s considered by some to be a heretical branch of Islam that worships the Devil. Alternatively, they believe that God placed the world under the care of seven angels led by Tawsi Melek, the Peacock Angel. As a distant relationship, this works well but there might be unfortunate side effects if Tawsi Melek actually arrives to administer human affairs, i.e. it might lead to lots of shitting unless you can be born again.

 

“Kill the Buddha by Elizabeth Twist is a wonderful variation on “alien invaders from another dimension”. This time, it’s the Buddhas and they’re back to make us feel good about ending it all. Thank God (that’s the Christian one, of course) for warriors like Gretchen and Scott. With them fighting on our side, humanity stands a chance to avoid transcendence — assuming that’s a bad thing, of course. Pursuing the idea of a fighter, “Robotnik” by Lavie Tidhar asks how a soldier gets through each day knowing the next combat situation could be his last. This will be all the more challenging for the advancing generations of cyborg troops. What will they believe in when their bodies can be repaired, their minds reborn? The answer is elegantly tragic. “Prometheus Possessed” by Matt Cardin switches to a different battlefield where a society comes under attack from a contagious psychic sickness. Only those Curers working in Psychic Sanitation on the frontline of diagnosis and treatment can keep safe the society resulting from Global Reformation. Unless, of course, the Sickness itself cannot be detained and treated in physical terms. Or perhaps ironically the Sickness will be a cure for society’s ills.

 

“Night Train” by Alma Alexander is about a woman who finally sees an end to the personification of her hopes and dreams as emotional winter comes. And yet. . . the Spring follows. She learns that, to persist through the dark night, all it takes is a little faith or faith from a little one. “The Sandfather” by Richard Wright deals with the tragic reality of bullying and shows one boy’s attempt to find happiness. “Sacrifice” by Jennifer Pelland asks the question we’d all rather not consider. Suppose God is real and He makes us a “one-time, life-or-death, take-it-or-leave it” offer, would we accept it? This is a delightfully cruel answer. “Thou Art God” by Tim Waggoner is elegantly cynical on the downside of godhood and the whole omniscience/ omnipotence thing. I mean who’d want that! In the same breath, “Wishflowers” by Tim Pratt tantalises with the magic of the old childhood game played with the seedheads of dandelions. He offers the idea we all need someone to show us the way but how far should sharing go? “Coin Drop” by Richard Dansky offers us a slightly different version of the apple-in-the-Garden trope. Free will is a tricky thing. To take the apple or not? To be or not to be. Now that would really be a good question. Similarly, if we think in Big Bang terms, the beings you would get with your “Starter Kit” by R J Sullivan would only be tiny specks of life. Even with a distorted time sense, they couldn’t possible be real in our sense of the word, could they?

 

“A Little Faith” by Max Allan Collins & Matthew Clemens shows that, when you’re praying for rescue, you need to know God works in mysterious ways (if you’re lucky, that is). “The Revealed Truth” by Mike Resnick gives us the background on the Miracle at Miller’s Landing and explains why the resurrection was only transitory. “God’s Dig” by Kelly Eiro sends our hero digging for the truth in his own backyard. “Divinity Boutique” by Brian J Hatcher sells the God you need for the truth buried in your heart. “The Birth of Pegasus” by K Tempest Bradford recasts the moment Perseus killed the Gorgon as a kind of mirror Oedipus complex by surrogate that allows a daughter to kill her mother to better understand her. “All This Pure Light Leaking In” by LaShawn M Wanak suggests it might be dangerous to hold a séance and try calling an angel. “Fin de Siècle” by Gemma Files takes us back to the idea of the Peacock Angel and shows us a different way in which art and religion may intertwine and devolve into decadence, addiction and death.

 

“The Angel Seems” by Jeffrey Ford demonstrates the extent of the problem that can arise when a newly created angel turns on God. It undermines the people’s faith in Him and may lead to a more general rejection of the deity. “Magdala Amygdala” by Lucy A Snyder suggests angels might remember it for us wholesale — so long as they survive the transformation, of course. And talking about transformations, “A Strange Form of Life” by Laird Barron suggests a new variety of cordyceps — those parasitic fungi — might be able to infiltrate humans in a warm underground environment. Now that might really produce flowers of a different hue. “In Blood and Song” by Nisi Shawl & Michael Ehart magic flowing from African gods helps fighters survive when a riot breaks out. It’s also possible this may signal the start of a new cult. The thing about cults is they usually start small but can grow dominant. “Little Lies, Dear Leader” by Kyle S Johnson tells of the dangers faced by missionaries in countries under the leadership of someone strong. When the evangelisers go, they leave behind those who have heard the call but now need to survive. Finally, “I Inhale the City, The City Exhales Me” by Douglas F Warrick sees a confusion at multiple levels between male and female, Japanese and American, manga and reality. If no-one’s entirely sure who they are, how can they relate to each other when their belief systems are so far apart?

 

Taken overall, Dark Faith: Invocations is a highly successful anthology, ranging in tone and content across religions like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, while flirting with magic and other belief systems. We run the gamut of sincerity, honesty, irony, cynicism and humour, something to be treasured when so many editors and publishing houses choose not to explore the darker corners of faith. There are some outstanding stories here and, no matter what you believe, this is a book worth reading.

 

Dramatically effective jacket art by Anderzak.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

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