Strange Horizons, July 6, 2015
Reviewed by Nicky Magas
The economy has tanked in Evan Berkow’s near future speculative fiction, “The Lone Star Sin Eaters.” The resulting financial crisis has been devastating on the lower and middle classes, forcing some to desperately look for work in unconventional places. Places such as the hastily pushed through Detention and Surrogacy Act which offers men and women hungry for work a chance to earn a decent living acting as whipping boys for the wealthy and influential. With a wife and two kids to feed, Oscar is just one of many forced into the tight and painful position of being routinely beaten in place and in front of the real offenders in a questionably effective new justice system. His latest client Jamie is no better or worse than any of the others: rich, arrogant, and with no real sense of responsibility. As Oscar takes a weekly beating in an attempt to teach the unrepentant teen a lesson, Jamie faces demons of his own, demons that have little to do with Oscar and the suffering he goes through.
“The Lone Star Sin Eaters” occupies that strange boundary between chillingly plausible and ludicrously implausible that gives speculative fiction so much power. While it’s hard to believe that the government would ever consider corporal punishment in absentia as a viable means of rehabilitation, references to ‘afluenza’ and real world instances of the wealthy and powerful being let off with barely a slap on the wrist for their misdeeds plant enough seeds of reality into the story that it needs little by way of world building. The structure of the story makes it somewhat hard to feel sympathy for any of the characters, however the strong voice and careful prose compensate for the subdued empathy and give the narrative an easy flow from beginning to end.