“The Mask and the Maze” by K. Bannerman
“Thirty-Three” by Tom Brennan
“The Rain Queen” by Barbara Davis
“Dead People’s Stuff” by Diane Arelle
“Like Minds” by Mike McHone
The cover art by editor Karl Johanson on issue 7 of Neo-Opsis reminded me of why I always loved Astronomy. While you’re in this one, take time to read some of the nonfiction articles, especially “A Walk through the Periodic Chart” (also by Johanson). Now, to the fiction:
In “The Mask and the Maze” by K. Bannerman, after the breakdown of democracy, much of the world has prospered through a Corporate Government led and owned by Aalde Baran. And all they had to do to gain this prosperity was relinquish all their freedoms. Those who disobey his laws end up at Baran Biotech Facilities to be broken down into their basic elements and processed into “pureWater” and sold on the market. Feared and worshipped by all, Aalde has no rivals, but having no more challenges bores him. But if he relinquishes his position, the society he built will crumble. Diedre, his personal assistant, comes up with an idea: construct a maze in which Aalde can hunt other people (but not to the death). To keep his identity secret, he wears a Minotaur mask made from short-term tissue fusion. He loves the idea, but eventually things take a turn for the worse.
Bannerman offers a clear insight into the mind of a tyrannical sociopath. The budding, complex romance between Aalde and Diedre mixed with Aalde’s lack of conscience leads to a few appalling events as such things often do. Aalde’s charisma is apparent in his every thought and word, and you almost want him to be a good man who’s just misunderstood. But alas, you know that’s not the case. I like to think of Diedre as being the hero of the story, but the motivations behind her actions are sketchy at best as she proves to be just as conniving as her boss. But at least there’s some conscience in her. Bannerman’s tale is one of those few worth reading more than once.
“Thirty-Three” by Tom Brennan gives a look into the future of space exploration from the private sector, with orbital stations and hotels, and colonies on Mars and Luna. Supervisors Paul Lang and Alison Connors lead a maintenance crew of Genapts or GAA’s (Genetically Adapted Analogue) designed for building ships in space. Paul sees them as nothing more than machines while Alison views them differently. On their crew is Genapt-33, who acts a little more human than his type is designed to be. Brennan’s story offers insight into the future ethical dilemmas of genetic engineering. Will beings we create for specific tasks be nothing more than organic robots, or will the very nature of DNA not allow it? Is it possible to explore and colonize space without the benefit of genetic engineering? If not, then how should we treat the organic constructs we create?
This story moved me and made me ask questions about the nature of life in general. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how genetic science may one day affect our society.
In “The Rain Queen” by Barbara Davis, Nuari the Rain Queen wakes up to find herself bound and slung over the back of an ox. Kidnapped by a desperate tribe dealing with a drought, she is offered a choice: bring them rain or they’ll destroy her tribe and kill her. She acquiesces but knows if they don’t return to the old ways, they’ll eventually face another drought. This tale warns against greed and disrespecting Nature. Davis’s style leads you along with smooth transitions from one scene to the next. My only complaint is that the story felt like it ended too soon, but that may be because I wanted to stay in that world.
“Dead People’s Stuff” by Diane Arrelle introduces you to a 14-year-old northern girl named Jenna. Due to her mother’s death she now lives with her father in a small southern town and feels a little like a fish out of water. While wandering through town she sees a sign outside a dingy old antiques store that reads: “We Buy Dead People’s Stuff.” Curious, she enters and encounters the ghost of Captain Plum who needs her help to move on. Arrelle offers a touching story about a girl struggling to adjust to her new life after a terrible loss. Another story you may wish to read more than once.
“Like Minds” by Mike McHone gives you an “alien’s eye” view of Earth’s inhabitants with a clever and humorous twist at the end. The story is brief and to the point but well written. It may also leave you a little humbled.