Published by: Concordia Professional Services, LLC
I have to admit that I don’t read many short story collections. But I do read a lot of Albedo One fiction submissions. Once you’ve read more than a hundred short stories over a short span of years, it’s not so much the really neat premise or the trick ending that catches your attention – indeed, those things can often be detriments – it’s the (a) rhythm and pace of a (b) story well told that is (c) exactly as long as it needs to be. At least, that’s what I look for. Therefore, it was a pleasure to read the ten stories that comprise this short science fiction collection, that, although loosely themed, are each one unique and satisfy all of the above criteria.
The common theme, for the most part: robots. The robots appear in all shapes and guises – as drones, fembots, scavenger bots – they’re all in there. Each story has a different take on the use of these mechanical devices that should not be confused with the I, Robot variety – with the possible exception of “The Gianni Box”, the bots in D. L. Young’s story aren’t self-aware or even intelligent. Three of the stories (“The Jacob Seeds”, “Dogville” and “The Last Goodbye”) are about tech and not robots, but let’s not quibble. I claim there’s a theme here, and that’s how I see it.
The writing is crisp and engaging, with the odd bit of Spanish thrown in throughout, and from the first paragraph, the reader is drawn into these stories, each having a dystopic edge. Often the action doesn’t let up until the end (“Dogville”). Sometimes there is a necessary amount of introspection and backstory that is usually woven seamlessly into the narrative (again, “Dogville”). I’d have to say my favourite story (can you guess?) is “Dogville”. A female reporter, afraid of being past her prime, risks going into a dangerous area ruled by humans controlling packs of wild dogs to get the story that will save her career. The story has a turn-the-page-quick rhythm and not-too-likeable characters that make you want to know what happens to them anyway.
My second favourite (this is hard for me to choose) is “The Jacob Seeds” since, even though I find the premise of a city (Torrox) cut off from international trade to be somewhat implausible, it is a good solid story and fun to read with a nice bit of poignancy at the end.
The title story, “Juarez Square”, has an easy familiarity of the present to it – El Cuatro, Texas and the hustle and bustle of life in a busy little border town, the presence of corruption at all levels, deadly drug dealers – with a fizz of dystopic edginess, the addition of narcobots.
My least favorite story was “The Last Goodbye” that, because of the title, is appropriately placed last. Even though the premise of how to conduct a relationship that spans an extended human lifetime is promising, it seemed too rushed and with little depth to it.
The lack of depth with many of the stories is, in fact, my main criticism of the collection (and perhaps one of its strengths as well). There is often not enough ‘meat’ inside the stories to produce a lasting fullness. Once you’re done reading, the story doesn’t linger or need a lot of digestion.
Despite that, I can easily recommend, Juarez and Other Stories as a solid science fiction story collection at a (as of this writing) nicely reasonable price, for a few hours of reading pleasure.