Book Title: Hello World – An Anthology of Short Stories
Author: Peter Cawdron
Publication Date: March 31, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Peter Cawdron has compiled his many stories and novellas from the past ten years of publishing independent science-fiction into one collection. It showcases the breadth and depth of the author’s storytelling skills to tell many bold stories filled with ambition and scope. It also kept me immersed in the worlds and characters he has created, each one absorbing and different.
Find out more about these sixteen assorted tales by reading an overview and review of each one, starting with:
“Hello World” – Liz is attending a lecture by her favorite professor, Franco Corelli, who believes aliens are studying humanity through Twitter. But when an extremist pulls a gun, will she survive to find out whether his theories are true? A twisty tale that goes in unusual directions and kept me invested in what happened to Liz and how Corelli’s story dovetails into hers. It also gets bonus points for using a real tweet in the story that you can actually find on Twitter (which I suspect the author put there on purpose but I could be wrong), giving this tale an extra layer of realism.
“The Man Who Remembered Today” – This is a story about a paramedic who knows the immediate future, doesn’t know how he knows what he knows but tries to use this new-found ability to prevent a series of terrorist attacks and save lives. As he learns more about how this power works, he still trying to prevent these attacks while being chased by the police, who believe he’s the prime suspect! In the process, we get a heart-pounding thrill-a-minute tale that grabs you until the very last word.
“Mirror, Mirror” – Jenny, Lisa, and Deon are kids living underground, trying to survive a world changed after an alien invasion. As we learn the story of the aliens and this conflict, the kids venture out in the world unattended in search of candy. What will they find? This terrific tale is filled with plenty of surprising twists and turns, one giant revelation and a jaw-dropping solution to what looked like an unsolvable problem.
“Butch and Sundance” – Manning is a veteran bounty hunter pursuing his quarry in Moscow, a geneticist named Popov. Being paid to pull him out of Russia, they run into many complications and soon there are unknown forces chasing them? But Popov knows something revolutionary that could change the world. How will Manning escape the people chasing him? The solution to this impossible problem is, frankly, ingenious.
“Killer” – Jac delicately pilots the ship stealthily, struggling to keep it from being discovered in a training exercise that deteriorates rapidly. Maintaining a battlefield advantage, her options eventually run out and a crucial decision must be made! Brimming with tension and compelling character development, this is a formidable tale about the terrible price of duty that soldiers must pay.
“Revolution” – Alexander is on a plane from Russia to New York City about to land when a beautiful woman, Sveta, starts paying attention to him. After they share a passionate kiss, the plane lands, all hell breaks loose in the airport and Sveta is being chased! What are the police after and how did Alexander get roped into it? A suspenseful story that makes you wonder what is happening and why.
“Lost Stars” – In this steampunk adventure, Ava is a teenager traveling through the clouds on a ship powered by steam, she talks with a starcaster, Bartholomew. As they are discussing astronomy, pirates arrive to plunder their ship. As Ava tries to survive the assault, will she be clever enough to turn the tide against the pirates? Ava’s resourcefulness and intelligence make for a plucky heroine who is the complete opposite of a damsel in distress.
“Natural” – Lincoln and his wife have lost another child to disease in the year 2026. Lincoln, a doctor who works for the government, discovers something incredible that will change the course of society forever and prevent people from dying as his children did. But because it is so controversial, he decides he must make a stand in the name of science. Giving a press conference, his revelation is so startling that the naturalists are fearful! With a momentous and stirring conclusion, Lincoln’s realization that a better future can only be had if he goes against societal norms and does what he thinks is right. The story is passionate, emotionally intense and deeply heartfelt, making us appreciate the longevity that good science gives us and how it has enriched our lives immeasurably.
“Heil Hitler” – Our story starts with Suzanne talking with her husband’s shrink about his seemingly schizophrenic episodes. When she wakes up two days later with no memory of what happened, we experience a truly out of left field, over-the-top deranged story as Suzanne has little clue as to what is really going on. When you discover what this is really about, it leads to a crazy ending that smacks you upside the head with its sheer lunacy and yet is supremely brilliant in its explanation.
“The End” – In a DARPA research facility hidden in a missile silo researching A.I. as a potential weapon, two researchers talk about SALLY the A.I. in an astute discourse of the nature of human intelligence, its evolution and how A.I. can be hard to replicate. Over the course of this scientific discussion, they deduce that they need to change the parameters of the A.I.’s learning. This way, it can develop in a more natural way without the limitations of thinking like a human, leading to them enlarging the scope of their testing. When they do, the story takes some hugely unexpected turns, provoking sadness at the breadth of the A.I.’s evolution and what it discovers, while also making me whistle at the mind-blowing, audacious ending.
“Don’t Tell”: When a celebrity reporter is chosen for an interview of a lifetime with Subject X, a telepath, we slowly learn about the Telepathy Act before Congress, brought about due to a fearful public. Using telepathy as a prism to explore what it’s like for minorities in society, we see first-hand from Subject X during the secret interview how afraid they are of this act coming to pass and how it’s meant to imprison them without any rights. With a riveting narrative that keeps you guessing what’s really going on here, it’s a thoughtful and empathetic examination of what it means to be different with a surprising bombshell of an ending.
“Abraham” – Abraham lives in the Amish Protection Zone on Earth. His son Jed, now being of age, wants to go to a faraway colony to live in another galaxy. Attending to larger matters, Abraham must travel to a meeting with the Amish Elders, who have found a serious threat to their community and way of life. How they decide to deal with this threat is multifaceted, creating a sense of intrigue while also showcasing how the Amish deal with problems with their unique, prudent mindset that aligns with their beliefs.
“More to Learn” – When NASA detects an alien spacecraft slowly approaching Earth, the population is thrown into chaos as it scrambles to figure out how to respond. But the spacecraft takes a long time to come to Earth and when it finally arrives, it does the unthinkable. How humanity squabbles among its governments and cultures are one of the highlights of this tale, which is the shortest in this collection but punctuates its point effectively and in a distinctive way.
“Suffer the Children” – Billy and Dakota are humans in an exhibition on an alien planet called Arctrixmatria for its entire population to see. The Arcs exhibit these humans in a giant bubble-like a zoo and are treated kindly. But these aliens don’t live time in a linear fashion, as they live in the past, present, and future all at once. As Billy and Dakota are shown by their alien hosts why they were chosen to be on their planet, we bounce around time and see their histories and the impact this has on their lives, and the lives of others, to date. This novella-length story is the longest in this collection and for good reason, as it explores humanity and history in ways a short story couldn’t. If it was a short story, it wouldn’t be able to expand on these ideas and themes in such depth. This is a noteworthy and memorable story because of the underlying philosophy in this situation and how the story utilizes those themes effectively.
“Déjà Vu” – In orbit above Earth, Jess and her crew are preparing to set out to explore the outer reaches of the galaxy in a day or so. But calamity strikes and their ship explodes! And then Jess realizes she’s lived through this moment before. What is happening to her and why? This story moves at a fast pace and deepens the intrigue and as Jess gets the answers she needs, it pivots into an amazing and wonderous explanation I could never see coming.
“The Darkness Between the Stars” – Onboard an exploration ship from Earth, Jane and Dario examine the Oort Cloud through their instruments when Jane detects an unusual anomaly. But she is psychically attacked! The author drops each breadcrumb of science, leading me along an intriguing trail to a ground-breaking discovery of high magnitude. It drew me in with its surprises and how each breadcrumb created a larger picture that I could only see by the time I reached its conclusion. It’s a slower burn of a story than some of his faster-paced works but the payoff is tremendous.
Each story in this collection features a wide variety of science subjects and then spins them into compelling yarns that are unique and interesting. They’re filled with characters that have a lot of depth and I can relate to them. Each character is the Everyman that makes you walk in a character’s shoes and experience the danger and inventiveness of the worlds they inhabit.
While there is a huge plethora of tales that cover a wide variety of ideas, science is a key concept in every story here. Each use of science informs the story but doesn’t overwhelm you with it. Instead, it uses it as a springboard for telling an interesting tale. Sometimes, it’s the main idea the story is organized around while other times, it’s an aside that nevertheless plays an important role in what the tale must tell. It’s used in such a brilliant way that makes me amazed at how the author accomplishes this task so adroitly. It’s also a strong hallmark of his work and is one of the many things that keeps me coming back to read more of his stories each time a new one is published.
There are exciting thrillers like “Hello World”, “The Man Who Remembered Today” “Revolution” and “Don’t Tell” that are side by side with examinations of artificial intelligence like “The End”. Alongside those are quieter, more contemplative stories like “Abraham” and “Suffer the Children” and more cerebral stories like “The Darkness Between the Stars”.
You also get time travel stories with “Déjà Vu’” and the bonkers smack-you-upside-the-head revelation of “Heil Hitler” and first contact scenarios with aliens like “More to Learn”. You’ll find alternative history stories like “Natural” and there are even steampunk, space opera, and bounty hunter stories too. The stories are unpredictable and continuously throw the reader a curve ball, no matter what the subject matter is.
Each story also features a short introduction telling the background of the story and where it was originally published. Sometimes, there is also an afterword that explores the background of the story, giving additional context for the science you just read about.
I first discovered this author when I read the anthology “From the Indie Side” back in January 2014. Since then, I’ve been following his works and have read most of his short stories and novels as they’ve been published to date. He’s incredibly prolific so there’s a variety of stories by him out there for anyone to enjoy.
But I know that when I read a story by him, I know I’m getting a thoughtful, engaging and versatile author who knows how to tell a tale. On top of that, he then integrates science into it flawlessly to create stories worth reading every single time. It was also really fun to re-read some of the stories I’ve read in the past, which I was able to appreciate and savor all over again.
This collection showcases the author’s strengths as a storyteller and as a prime example of science-fiction at its finest that is worth every penny you spend. If you’ve never read Peter Cawdron before, this is the book you should pick up first. If you’ve read him before, dive in to enjoy this innovative and talented author for all the worlds he creates and then transports you to in your imagination. It was truly a pleasurable reading experience.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Peter Cawdron include “Chronicle Worlds: Legacy Fleet – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction – Future Chronicles, Book 20”