Short Fiction Review: A Cup of Joe

Well, it’s a new week which means a new review of short fiction.  This week’s pick is A Cup of Joe by Anita Ensal. Before we get on to talking about the short story, I want to take a moment to tell you how I came across this story. To put it simply, it was emailed to me. Zombies Need Brains LLC, is a fledgling publishing company using a Kickstarter to fund their first project entitled: Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. In general, I’m new to Steampunk as a genre, but I think Kickstarters are pretty neat and I wanted contribute something to this new company (even if it was only $15) and this seemed like a good place to start. I backed the project. As a reward they have been emailing stories, written by authors contributing to the anthology, to the backers. I don’t believe A Cup of Joe will be contained in the anthology but I found Anita’s website here and it can be purchased on Amazon for like three dollars or something like that.

Love this Artwork!

Love this Artwork!

It’s worth the money.

When reading the story, I was immediately struck by the author’s voice. It’s easy to read, almost conversational. I was struck next by the construction of the world and the role of each character. These constructions were not necessarily subtle but still very tastefully done. For instance, there is a character called the Mother Board. It is clear from her actions within the story that she functions similarly to what we might expect from a motherboard in a computer. She governs the other components of the city and ensures that the ‘program’ runs effectively and efficiently. However, there is a way in which she also feels like a Mother, attempting to look out for her child, in this case, the human race. Perhaps, she is a little overzealous (ok she’s bat shit crazy) but that human aspect is there. It’s is especially interesting considering the fact that she isn’t human at all.

This is a world in which the structure of society values the mechanical and routine, over disruption and creativity. Of course, this cannot stand.

From here, all sorts of philosophical and ethical questions are raised. Is it ok to kill a few to save many? Are our lives predetermined or do we truly have a choice? Is it better to be happy in our ignorance or always seek the truth even if that truth is disturbing and painful? And of course how do we treat the environment? It isn’t a far leap to imagine this rigid, structured society as our own.



However, I think my favorite aspect of this piece is the love story. It’s simplistic (as a love story should be) and somehow reassuring. Now I think back on everything this piece has to offer and another story comes to mind. It reminds me an awful lot of The Matrix. It doesn’t have all the guns and shooting, but a lot of same elements are persistent through the story. When I first made this realization I was a little bit upset. But now, I don’t mind at all. I think that the story is still enjoyable to read because of it’s aforementioned qualities. The writing is good. Fun to read with good pacing. The characters are easy to care about. In my mind, the distance between David, Mother Board, Emily, and the reader is a lot less than between the viewer, Neo and Trinity. You’re in a new world, but it isn’t that far from what you already know.

As a short, I think it was perfectly done. Not a complete mind bender (or mind-fuck for that matter) but an enjoyable tale that gives you the opportunity to think about some interesting questions, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with them.

So, in conclusion, go spend the three dollars. Also, keep and eye out for Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. 

Bye all.

Short Fiction Review: Enemy Mine

I’ll admit, this review isn’t as inspired as some of my other reviews. I suppose it’s because I simply wasn’t inspired by the story. I think my initial reaction after finishing was: “Wow that was a really long story”. And I suppose that fifty pages isn’t all that long as far as page counts go, but it wasn’t the amount of pages that made the story feel long. It was the span of time within the story. I think something like six years pass from when Davidge first crash lands on the island and fights Jeriba (man what names) to the end. I might have aged six years just reading it. But between the pain/anguish, mourning, religion, parenthood, philosophy,  existential crisis, racism . . .

It was exhausting!

The Enemy PapersAfter reading Enemy Mine (by Barry B. Longyear) I did a little Google search just to see if I could get some context. It seemed that a story this . . . saturated wouldn’t  exist in a vacuum. I was right. Enemy Mine is apparently the first story in something of a trilogy. All of the three stories (Enemy Mine, The Tomorrow Testament, and The Last Enemy) have been gathered into an anthology called The Enemy Papers. The anthology also contains a bunch of letters from the author discussing different themes of the work and some of his motives for writing. Included in the work, is a copy of The Talman which is a religious text (fictional of course) that they reference throughout the story.

A few days ago I was thinking I would read these other stories and decide at that point whether or not I enjoyed the experience. Evaluate the entire work as a whole. I don’t think I will. Some authors get better as you read them. Some don’t.

I suppose I really want to put myself in the mind of the people voting for Hugo Awards. Why did this story make the cut? It didn’t seem particularly revolutionary in any sense. One of the major themes in the story appears to be racism. I think Science fiction in general lends itself well to discussing this issue. Must have something to do with the prevalence of new species interacting with one another. No way that could go badly right?

All of that being said however, I don’t know that Enemy Mine contributed any new commentary on that issue. Just rehashed a lot that we are already familiar with. It did give me a good deal to think about in terms of single parenting. The aliens, or Dracs, are asexual (not a lot of fun there) and do not require a mate to reproduce. Their children are pretty much ‘ready-made’ and don’t require much assistance to survive after the first few months. It seems the only thing they do require is companionship. I haven’t decided whether or not this was intended for purposes of the story’s message or if the author wrote himself into a corner and this was the most convenient solution to the problem of having a human be able to care for, raise and parent a child of another species.

Anyway, if we suspend disbelief long enough to accept the rapidity of these creature’s maturation, it begs the question of whether they need companionship at all. For humans, I feel like part of this need is evolutionary. We need other people to survive. However, it doesn’t seem like the Dracs do . . . It isn’t necessary for them to procreate, and they seem pretty capable on their own. Would ‘society’ as we know it, and as the Dracs seem to have within the story, ever truly form. Also, how does a species evolve with only one set of genes? I guess I need to take another science course.

If you have the time, go ahead and give Enemy Mine a read through but I wouldn’t drop anything of your list to get it done.

See you next week!