Book Title: The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories
Author: Alex Shvartsman
Publication Date: March 31, 2018
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Short stories are the perfect way to fit reading into your day in small doses. I heartily enjoy this storytelling format, especially in science fiction and fantasy settings. So, when I was given a chance to see more about the kinds of stories this author writes, I didn’t hesitate to read. I was glad I did, as there’s thirty-one different short stories and pieces of flash fiction in here, so there’s something for everyone’s tastes. There’s humor, deep space science fiction, apocalyptic scenarios, Lovecraftian tales, artificial intelligence, wizards, warring feudal lands and much, much more.
I’m dividing these up into several categories and what I liked the most about each. All of the stories in this collection fit into one of these four categories, though some would deservedly fit into more than one category at the same time. The ones I highlight below best exemplify these themes.
Humor – Each of these stories represents the author’s strong sense of humor and how he deftly uses it in each story. Each tale inspired rounds of giggling to chortling to uproarious levels of laughter and enjoyment. Humor can be pretty subjective to the reader, but I found these tales hit all the right comical notes with high degrees of success.
“Noun of Nouns” was an epic tale about feuding kings in the space of only a few pages, while “Golf to the Death” takes golf to a high-stakes level, where playing against the alien Taneer race could resolve a prickly diplomatic problem. “The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis” is a manual for first-time time travelers on how to fit in and “Dante’s Unfinished Business” is about a drug dealer who goes to purgatory to resolve an issue he didn’t realize he needed to fix.
Religion – The use of religion here makes for a journey into different faiths and how, when used in a science-fiction or horror context, breathe new life into them and make for deeper characterization and motivation. It’s not preachy as some stories about religion can be, but it is informative, utilized well and infused into the story, makes for a stronger narrative.
“Golem of Deneb Seven” was about how a family responds to a planetary invasion by aliens and how their faith gives them strength and the fortitude to fight back in unimaginable ways. It leads off this collection, deservedly so, as it has a powerful message about faith and how our beliefs inform our actions. “Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah” is a funny tale about how the apocalypse begins on the first night of Chanukah and how one man does his best to avert it. Bonus points for cleverly skewering Santa Claus and the myths surrounding him.
Heartbreak – These stories strike a deep emotional chord with me, as they were serious, had something interesting to say or were wrestling with a psychological dilemma. All of this was presented against a science-fiction backdrop and each character must endure something difficult in order to try and succeed. These are the bleaker pieces in this collection and are mesmerizing in what they have to say and how they say it.
“Whom He May Devour” was about how society responds to change and how buried age-old secrets become known, all while focusing on the differences between a religiously devoted girl and a strange visitor who likes playing the guitar. “Islands in the Sargasso” is about a former drug addict who is cryogenically frozen, crosses a barrier at the edge of the galaxy and encounters more than he bargained for. “Fifteen Minutes” is a short piece focusing on a world where artificial intelligence rules and forces the population to do creative performances and ties it into their survival. And “The Ganthu Eggs” features mercenaries taking on a difficult sabotage job and are forced to make a choice where there are no good options.
Wow! – This category is reserved for the stories that blew me away with how intense they were or had a jaw-dropping surprise. These are the most powerful in the collection and featured remarkable and insightful storytelling, as well as how inventively the tales were told.
“Grains of Wheat” was a true parable about greed and past misdeeds coming back to haunt you in a very creative and vengeful way. “Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare” had an awesome, unpredictable and yet ironic twist to it. “Die, Miles Cornbloom” was a thriller about how a stalker violated the sanctity of someone’s home and their life, for reasons I would never have guessed. And “The Race for Arcadia”, which closes out this collection, is a short story about how Russia is racing to get to a distant planet first while offering a terminal patient something to hope and live for.
Overall, the author’s bold imagination runs rampant here, with some wild ideas and crazy scenarios. A sentient spam filter (!), an epic war told in only a few pages, intelligent wizards hiding valuables from the masses (because reasons) and artificially intelligent space probes trying to save Earth from a natural disaster. There are also Lovecraftian books being checked out of an unusual section of the library and a fella named Dante who’s trying to find out why he cannot move on to the afterlife.
The thing I appreciated the most about all of these stores was this: in one of the after-story notes, the author states clearly “I revel in subverting tropes.” To me, this translates as: “My stories are not predictable and go in directions you will not expect.” I LOVE stories that take my expectations and then turn them upside down. I don’t want to read the same old stories repeatedly, I want to read something that enthralls me and surprises me. The author does that here with each one of his tales.
There was not a single story that didn’t make me laugh, utter a soft gasp at the twist or provoke strong emotions in the way the tale was told. The thoughtful way each tale presented its characters and situations plunged right into the heart of it immediately in a way that I wanted to see where it would take me. Being full of heart is also how I would describe each one as well because the emotions on display by all the different characters are easily relatable and made me think about how I would feel if I was placed into any of these unusual situations.
Each story also has an author’s note after the end of it, demonstrating additional insight into the origins of the tale, the different ideas that led to its evolution and where it was first published. I always like these kinds of notes, as it pulls back the curtain to see what the thinking was behind it, how ideas are generated and the interesting anecdotes that came up along the way. How it connected to the author’s background and how that informed the stories is always fascinating to see.
My only minor quibble with these notes is that it doesn’t reveal the year each story was published. That is something I would have wished to see if only to observe how the author’s style has evolved from one story to the next over the years.
I first discovered this author when I read his short story “The Hunt for the Vigilant” in OCEANS: The Anthology (Frontiers of Speculative Fiction Book 2) and I immediately knew I wanted to read more of his stories. This collection fits the bill perfectly, with some short stories and mostly flash fiction all mixed together, with one interesting idea after another.
Short fiction has enjoyed a resurgence over the past few years, what with time becoming an ever more valuable commodity in our increasingly busy lives. Delightful collections like this one allow readers to easily dive into a brand-new world and immerse yourself in it for a few minutes at a time.
The author has been getting his short stories published since 2010 in a wide variety of anthologies, magazines, and other assorted places. For someone like me who has started to dive into his works, this collection is the perfect way to read a variety of tales from one author in one complete collection and just bask in the pleasure of each story.
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