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.
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.