Racers of the Night: Science Fiction Stories by Brad Torgersen

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Racers of the Night: Science Fiction Stories

by Brad R. Torgersen

(WordFire Press, August 2014)

The Curse of Sally Tincakes”
The Bricks of Eta Cassiopeiae”
Guard Dog”
Recapturing the Dream”
The Flamingo Girl”
Reardon’s Law”
Blood and Mirrors”
The Shadows of Titan”
The Nechronomator”
The Hideki Line”
Life Flight”

Reviewed by Ryan Holmes

Brad R. Torgersen, a true American hero, is a hard-charging, go-getter on a mission to take science fiction by storm. His assault into this competitive industry should be taught to prospective authors the way strategic theory is to officers at Annapolis. He didn’t just win L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future XXVI in 2009, claim victory, and hide away in a small, quiet room selling stories on the coattails of his award. No, he kept coming back. He volunteered with Writers of the Future, helped out at numerous conferences, and networked the industry. In short, he worked hard to make an impression. Kevin J. Anderson certainly noticed.

This drive, this professionalism lives in Torgersen’s fiction. It shines through his characters and governs their motivations. The result? Science fiction designed to entertain not preach, generate wondrous landscapes not political platforms, and show us what we can accomplish when we work and bleed for our goals, not whine and demand we’re owed them.

And it works. Torgersen’s characters are real. They deal with real issues. Since 2009 his stories have been nominated for a Campbell, a Nebula, and three Hugo awards because his readers relate to stories about family, friendship, honor, and responsibility. When we read them, we see ourselves overcoming the barriers in our lives, and they give us the hope that we can conquer any obstacle if we pull ourselves up and do the work.

This is Torgersen’s second collection of stories gathered from frequent contributions to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, Analog Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies. Two stories are here for the first time and are reviewed in detail. But the best part of this collection is the insight the readers gain into the author and his storytelling. After every story, Torgersen digests their beginnings, their purpose, and what he learned from them. There are no less than three introductions by the likes of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.; Kevin J. Anderson; and Dave Wolverton and essays by Torgersen that detail his relationship with each author. Read it because you love good science fiction. Read it because you’re a fan craving intimate knowledge of the man behind the pen. Read it because you’re like me: a writer searching for a roadmap of how to do it right.

As a collection, we find a common current of strong, determined characters. They’re proactive with near unattainable goals, yet somehow they succeed, often because of a relational motivator. All of Torgersen’s characters are driven by a connection to family. Good or bad, the protagonist’s relationship with a friend or family member is at the heart of his or her goal. Interestingly, when children play a role in a story that role is often at a distance or off-camera with respect to the protagonist; although, they are clearly the motivation. In short, duty keeps us from those we love, but their love is what drives us to do our duty.

Recapturing the Dream” shows us how terrible tragedy can derail our lives to the point we shut down, give up, and turn inward. Sometimes life deals us a horrible round of atrocities we can’t possibly process, much less overcome. Like the loss of loved ones. Our natural reaction is to withdraw from the world. Our responsibilities and our dreams lose all meaning, all purpose, when the reason for them is taken away.

That’s what Henrietta does. For her it’s easy. She’s already alone in a long-term mining facility on an asteroid far from Earth. All she has to do is shut it down and disappear into obscurity. For twenty years, that’s exactly what she does, but now the asteroid is approaching Earth again, and the world is knocking on her door.

Her comfortable isolation is intruded upon by the heir of the corporation who sent her, and he has his own key to the door. Henrietta may have shut down, but the world continued. The economy has never been so bad. A new source of resources is needed. There’s work to be done, they have a responsibility to save the world, and time is running out.

Convincing Henrietta to come out of her shell is a slow process of small steps. Jimmy, the heir to the corporation, is compassionate and patient but determined. Henrietta believed time alone would heal her wounds. With Jimmy’s gentle prodding, she learns human interaction and hard work is what she needed to find closure and to rekindle her vision of exploration.

Blood and Mirrors” is a racy murder mystery set in a near-future where artificial intelligence, “simumen,” originally developed for adult entertainment, have “Awoken” with varying reactions to their past memories. Awakening becomes a metaphor for anyone who has realized they no longer like their situation and decides to change it. That change can be drastic, painful, and dangerous. But more often, it involves simply running away and repressing any memory of it.

That’s Camarro’s story. Until she gained cognition, she was an unwitting, high-end sex slave hired by customers with the most exotic, deplorable fetishes. The kind of customers who wouldn’t dare share their fantasies with another human being. Camarro’s awareness is immediate and comes in the middle of such a fantasy. Her trauma and reaction are understandable. She runs away, finds someone who cares about her, and becomes a cop, a detective, while the world deals with issues of simumen rights, freedoms, and potential risks to humans.

But she can’t run from her past. None of us can. Nor can she repress the memories of it any more than we can shrug off the scars of our pasts. They haunt us, shape our personalities, our trust, and our treatment of others. Worse, our pasts catch up to us. Eventually, we must face them. It takes Camarro the investigation of a simumen murder spree by a fanatic from her pleasure days and the risk of her husband’s life to face her past with enough courage to conquer it. We should learn from Camarro not to hide until it’s too late, but to face our fears early and move on. Doing so will be horrible, but inner peace awaits us on the other side.

Brad R. Torgersen takes popular story tropes like circuit racing, prison breaks, and murder mysteries and injects them with hard science and futuristic settings populated with relatable characters in desperate situations.  If that’s the SF you enjoy reading then you’re in for a treat from one of the brightest new voices in the genre.

Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com