This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Under Stars by K.J. Kabza
KJ Kabza is back with a second, bigger round of short fiction that’s “Incredible” (Tangent), “Fascinating” (SFRevu), and “Worthy of Edgar Allan Poe” (SFcrowsnest). Featuring his freshest work from the top science fiction and fantasy venues of today, including F&SF, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more, UNDER STARS showcases wonders from worlds both here and beyond—enchanted hedge mazes, abandoned cities, programmable cyberneurons, alien overlords, 1,000-foot-high tides, secret dreams, and humanity’s omnipotent future. (via Goodreads)
When I read “The Soul in the Bell Jar” in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 6, I wondered if the setting already existed, if the short story was an “expanded universe” type of deal where an author explores a nook or cranny of the world they’ve already built in five novels. No, it wasn’t. My next question was, “Was it going to be five novels?” ‘Cause I’d totally read that! Sadly, the answer to that question is “no” too, but it’s okay.
It’s okay because K.J. Kabza puts that seemingly effortless world building into all his stories. There is no dry exposition about how any given world works. These stories don’t have time for that. As readers, we are simply put down in the story. We interact with the world as the characters do and feel like we have what knowledge we need. Each story is being told from the speculative fiction culture it’s from without the easy-mode outsider to explain everything. And as lovely as the world-building is, these stories are about the characters.
This is a weighty anthology. Twenty-two stories, only a few of them are 2-3 pages in length, and a section of “poetry.” It’s broken into three sections: Fiction, Fantastic; Fiction, Science; and Limericks, Dirty.
I’m picky about my science fiction, so the first section worked the best for me. “The Soul in the Bell Jar” is here with its gloriously squwicky concept of stitched souls, but I would as easily love to spend more time with the sandcats of “The Color of Sand” or in the dictionary of “Neighbors: A Definitive Odyssey.” Some of the usual fantasy cast are also given a treatment: vampires, trolls, unicorns, and (ahem) dragon riders.
This isn’t to say that the SF stories are chopped liver. There is a lot of tech fun to be had in extrapolating surf culture into the future with a story like “Gnarly Times at Nana’ite Beach.” “Copyright 2113” does what good science fiction should do: *gently* show how humans might end up interacting with technology (in this case DRM on memories) instead of being preachy and/or pessimistic about it. My favorite story of this section though is “The Land of Stone and Stars,” a poignant tale of loss set in a subtly different world. Again, these stories are about the characters, not the settings, even as fully rounded as the settings seem.
The limericks? Well, they’re limericks. Naughty nerdy limericks. Fun at parties and apparently cons. If I could go back in time, I would have read them between the story sections as a palate cleanser.