Book Title: Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 34
Editor: Jessica West
Publication Date: June 24, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
For the thirty-fourth issue of Canyons, there are four imaginative science fiction tales to pull you into the mysteries and uncover the threats of deep space. From stories about trillions of insects harboring a sinister secret to disposing of dead bodies in a star to pondering the purpose of life to following a squad of people trying to complete their mission, these tales will captivate you with the stories they have to share. Read on to find out more, starting with:
Nathan M. Beauchamp’s “Exclusionary Symbiosis” – Jaxson is running a ship that has powerful shields, eradicating millions of insects at a high rate of speed. Those shields are needed so they can help thin out the trillions of bugs on a distant planet important to humanity’s research. But when something goes wrong with his ship, will he even survive?
Jaxson’s plight is a harrowing one and as he tries to survive a crash-landing, it firmly places you in his shoes and twists your guts up in knots. What he discovered made my skin crawl as the revelations about the planet and its inhabitants are unfurled in a way that made me want to know more about what was happening. It’s a terrifying tale that I could not put down.
Charles Barouch’s “Ship of the Dead” – Brenna is a manager of a company that hauls and disposes of dead miners by sending them into the sun. Asteroid mining is a risky business and her business is so specialized, there are very few competitors. It also keeps her very busy. So, when the government gives her an offer she can’t refuse to bankroll and expand her business, will she take it?
Brenna is in an unusual business and an offer to expand her fleet from one ship to three appears to be too good to pass up. The author fleshes out this story with the dark details of Brenna’s gruesome job and demonstrates how it takes its emotional toll on her. In examining this deal, it’s clear Brenna is no fool and she shrewdly considers all the angles. Once she makes her decision, we see the results, expected and unexpected, with an ingenious twist that I couldn’t have predicted.
Terry R. Hill’s “Last Visit to the Park” – As an old man sadly ponders the entirety of his existence and the lack of meaning it now has, he makes an important and life-altering decision. But when a stranger appears and inquires about his life, the old man decides to share his story. But what kind of life has this old man lived and why is he so depressed?
This story works on two different levels, each one reflective and fascinating. On one level, it’s an introspective look at aging and each individual ache and pain that comes with it. This also layers in how this impacts the old man on both a physical and emotional level that immersively places the reader firmly into the body and soul into this unique individual.
The second level has to do with the search for purpose in our lives and how it affects the way we perceive it. Pulling it all together with the old man’s surprising and fantastical examination of a long-lived life and you get an enthralling tale that hits you in the gut and delights you at the same time. Having read this author before, I can tell you it’s one of his best short stories to date.
Daniel Arthur Smith’s “Off-World Kick Murder Squad VII” – Flying away in their ship, the squad is trying to escape the planet with the alien they freed from captivity, Sss’karo. But they are confronted by bounty hunters, who want Sss’karo and are willing to pay well for him. Wondering whether the bounty hunters can be trusted and finding themselves in a corner, how will they escape this no-win situation?
The action and intrigue increase with this episode, with some of Sss’karo’s secrets coming to light. His abilities are frightening and formidable, making for mutually beneficial advantages but also potential problems. I liked the way the squad tried to work their way through these issues, the unique solutions they tried to bring to the table and how Sss’karo’s unusual skills changed the odds for them. I also liked how those skills helped their injured teammate, Will, and demonstrated some deeper characterization of their personal history together as well.
The last episode of this serial was in “Tales from the Canyons of the Damned: No. 33”, the previous issue, so I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long for the next installment.
This collection presents three authors whom I’ve enjoyed before in previous issues of Canyons and one who is new to me, Charles Barouch. All four of these short stories are mesmerizing and suck me into outer space with their stories that kept me turning the pages. Of course, doing so is one of the many hallmarks of the “Tales of the Canyons of the Damned” series, making it a must-read for me when each new one is published.
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