“One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit” by Dominica Phetteplace
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
The latest issue of this monthly publication of imaginative literature offers two science fiction stories dealing with love lost and found, and two fantasies about violence and death.
“One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit” by Dominica Phetteplace takes place in a near future of environmental degradation and all-powerful corporations. A woman, who has just lost her job and broken up with her boyfriend, accepts an assignment to monitor a desolate wasteland. The area is being studied as a model for terraforming Mars. She is completely alone in a vast desert, except for several robots. The machines prove to have their own agenda, one which is opposed to the wishes of the corporation who hired her.
Given the background and the premise, the reader expects a dramatic outcome. Instead, the plot turns into a romantic comedy, as the robots send her to a place where she meets an attractive forest ranger. The characters are likable, and the story is a pleasant read, but the intriguing beginning leads to an anticlimactic ending.
In “No Matter” by Kendra Fortmeyer, a married couple meets a young woman who claims to be the husband’s daughter, by another woman, from the future. She tells him to be in a certain seat in a coffee house at a certain time. (The implication is that she wants to make sure he meets her mother, so she can be born.) The couple debates whether the woman is really from the future, and whether the man should do as she says, leading to a crisis in their marriage.
The plot deals with time travel paradoxes that will seem familiar to most readers of science fiction. The story also raises the issue of whether causing someone not to be born is an ethical problem or not. Some readers may find the resolution too ambiguous.
In “The Final Blow” by Scott Sigler, an island town is invaded by raiders who plan to slaughter everyone, with the exception of a few very young boys. A man tells his nephew to lie about his age, and to be ready to kill at a moment’s notice, so the raiders will adopt him rather than murder him.
This is a grim tale, unrelieved by any trace of hope that the boy can escape his dreadful fate. The author powerfully conveys the way in which even an innocent child can be driven to horrible actions out of desperation. The story’s fantasy elements do not add much to the plot.
“A Leash of Foxes, Their Stories Like Barter” by Cassandra Khaw takes the form of a dark fairy tale, told by a parent to a child. A woman marries a man who resembles a fox. A jealous lover follows the couple to their home in the woods. He discovers that the place is full of corpses, leading to a final, bloody confrontation.
The ending of the story, which reveals the identity of the narrator, is predictable. The story has a great deal of mood and flavor, despite the lack of surprises in the plot.
Victoria Silverwolf has seen coyotes, not foxes.